Before the discovery of the kiwifruit vine-killing disease Psa on an orchard in Te Puke in November 2010, Don Heslop had plans for semi-retirement.
But his orchard is right in the Psa hot zone and it didn't take long before his orchard was infected. To date 1305 orchards, mostly in the Te Puke region, are infected with Psa.
Despite his retirement plans being cut back just like his infected vines, Mr Heslop remains optimistic for his future as an orchardist. This winter he grafted 9000 vines of the new gold G3 variety on to the stumps of the old vines. "The gold G3 shows more tolerance to Psa, but not until December will we really know. Research is ongoing and new future vines may be even more resistant," Mr Heslop said.
Optimism aside, the next year is going to be tough financially. "[The] 2013 gold production is wiped out and, in 2014, I only expect half of the normal production," he said.
Mr Heslop still has a good chunk of green kiwifruit on his land, which will continue to produce crop next year. However, as payouts for green fruit is much lower than gold, he expects his revenue for 2013 to drop by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"I called BNZ the same day our orchard was found to be infected. Right from the start, they have been behind me, so I am confident we can survive as a business beyond the next few years. We are able to get funding until we can establish new viable varieties," he said.
Rather than scaling down his workload after more than 30 years in kiwifruit, Mr Heslop, 52, is working more hours and has had to invest in new equipment to improve efficiencies on the orchard.
He is not complaining though. "We need to remember that many other people in supporting industries are affected by Psa. It is not just the growers," Mr Heslop said.