Maori could be hit hard by Kiwifruit Vine Disease (PSA)

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A kiwifruit canker outbreak in the Bay of Plenty may be more widespread than first thought after 43 orchards supplied photographs to marketing company Zespri showing symptoms of the disease BusinessDay.co.nz reported today saying, two adjacent kiwifruit orchards have now been confirmed with the disease pseudomonas syringae pv actinidiae, or PSA, and a third 10km away has been quarantined pending the outcome of tests.

Maori kiwifruit growers and distributors have called an urgent hui in response to the discovery of the vine killing PSA bacteria on a Bay of Plenty orchard, reported Waatea News.

Hemi Rolleston, the chief executive of Te Awanui Hukapak, says last Friday’s discovery is causing deep concern across the multi-million dollar Maori businesses.

All growers are doing their own inspections. Anything that looks remotely like it could be (infected) has been sent in for further investigation. A specially coordinated Maori growers hui has been arranged for this Friday so we are encouraging all growers and particularly Maori growers to attend, Mr Rolleston says.

He says growers hope the bacteria can be contained, as it has the potential to wreak havoc on the industry.

At the end of last year, Kiwifruit packaging company Te Awanui Huka Pak won the rights to a $24.2 million deal with New Zealand’s largest kiwifruit grower. It was a major step forward for Maori business.

In particular this could hit Tauranga Maori who are now the biggest shareholders of Seeka. In the context of Maori business this is extremely significant. They are a collection of Maori trusts who have invested in primary production, and in fact the whole value chain, said Maori Party Co-leader Pita Sharples.

On the international front, Australia and America have said they will continue to import kiwifruit from New Zealand, Zespri said today.

The two countries are among the top 10 markets for NZ kiwifruit and Zespri director corporate and grower services Carol Ward said the company was confident there would be no issue with other markets.

The biggest buyers of New Zealand kiwifruit last year were Japan and the European Union, according to Statistics New Zealand.

The follow on effects of this outbreak could also hit Maori whanau, many who work seasonally packing and shipping the fruit around the world.

Although Australia will continue to import the fruit, it has suspended imports of kiwifruit plants from New Zealandpending a review, AAP reports.

PSA has not appeared in New Zealand before. It is known to be transmitted in several ways, such as rain, wind, and plant transfers, but not through the fruit itself and there is no human health risk from PSA.

Its effects vary, but in some areas of Italy it has caused losses of up to 50 per cent on crops of the gold cultivar.

‘This is something that affects the vine. It doesn’t impact on the fruit, so really this is business as usual for us with regard to the export of fruit.”

INDUSTRY FEARS

Opotiki Packing and Coolstorage managing director Craig Thompson observed the spread of the vine-killing disease PSA – scientifically known as pseudomonas syringae pv actinidiae – in Italy over the course of four years.

An outbreak there last season killed a quarter of a type of gold kiwifruit vines in the Lazio region, and up to half the vines on some orchards, including one owned by New Zealanders.

“It proved to be incredibly virulent and aggressive on gold varieties of kiwifruit in the Italian region and at this point we still don’t understand why,” he told Radio New Zealand.

With the value of hindsight what happened was “we were too slow and we weren’t aggressive enough with the vines we removed that might have been infected”, he said.

If the strain of the bacteria turns out to be the one which wreaked havoc on gold kiwifruit in Italy last season, it could take hundreds of millions of dollars from the NZ industry, which earned $1.4 billion in the year to March.

Carter said that it was possible that the bacteria was a latent infection which had been dormant until a cold, wet winter had stressed vines causing symptoms to flare.

“We do not know how the disease arrived in New Zealand,” he said.

“It is possible that it may have been here for some time … the disease appears to only attack under certain environmental conditions.

Gold kiwifruit are the sector’s most profitable cultivar, and made up 77,000 tonnes or 21 percent of Zespri’s production last season, but about 34 percent of the crop’s earnings: $285.7 million.

DESTRUCTION AN OPTION

Destruction of kiwifruit orchards and the creation of a “buffer zone” is an option as biosecurity officials battle a potentially devastating outbreak of canker in Bay of Plenty.

While PSA can seriously damage kiwifruit production, there is no health risk.

Kiwifruit is New Zealand’s largest horticulture export, accounting for 30 per cent of world kiwifruit trade.

David Yard, Biosecurity New Zealand response manager for the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, said though the strain of PSA had not yet been identified, the industry should not simply hope it was a lesser strain.

“This issue of the strain is really a red herring,” he said. “All of the strains are potentially pathogenic, some greater than others. We are treating this as the worst possible situation.” As with every biosecurity response, he said, “MAF’s initial aim is to eradicate this organism.

“We are working up a number of different eradication and control techniques. Certainly destruction would be one of those eradication techniques. This is one that has been used in Italy and with some degree of success in other countries.”

Asked what the other options were,Yard said: “The team is working up a number of different options. Until we finalise those we would need to discuss them further with the industry.

“Clearly if you have an infected area and destruction is necessary you would need to have a buffer zone to ensure you killed all the bacteria. But we’d need to assess whether eradication techniques, given the New Zealand climate, would be feasible.”

Meanwhile, work was going on the background, he said, particularly on keeping trading partners informed.

“We’re keen to ensure they understand we are taking all necessary steps to control the spread of this disease. We are hoping by our actions and talking to our partners to keep those trading windows open.”

Kiwifruit growers were attending meetings in Te Puke and Tauranga yesterday to share information with MAF, Plant and Food Research, and Zespri.

Carol Ward, director corporate and grower services for Zespri, said the meetings would inform growers about PSA.

“We’re asking people to make an assessment of their orchards through photographs, not removing plant material.”

It was important growers continued to prepare for next year’s crop, but they should practise good hygiene such as sterilising pruning equipment, hosing down machinery, disinfecting footwear and washing hands.

TOP NZ KIWIFRUIT EXPORT MARKETS, 2010

  • Japan $293.5m
  • EU $221.6m
  • China $74.6m
  • Korea $69.7m
  • Taiwan $64.7m
  • Australia $33.5m
  • United States $27.6m

Source: Statistics New Zealand

Kia ora to BusinessDay.co.nz and Waatea News for some of this content

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