At least 1000 kiwifruit growers are fighting back against Psa by injecting just over $124million into a bold plan to rid the industry of the devastating disease.
Zespri yesterday approved 2068ha to be used for growing Gold3 (G3) kiwifruit, a variety that has shown to be more tolerant of Psa.
It is the largest transition to a new variety undertaken by the industry in a year and is expected to involve nearly 15 per cent of New Zealand's kiwifruit.
It will cost growers $60,000 per hectare to produce the new variety, making the total investment in G3 $124.08million. Each grower had to pay $8000 per hectare for licensing; $2000 up front and the balance over two to three years.
The announcement comes days after the Ministry of Primary Industries announced it was still deciding whether to prosecute growers who illegally injected their vines with antibiotics. Psa is expected to cost the industry hundreds of jobs and $885 million.
G3 is tolerant to Psa and offered high orchard yields plus positive handling and storage characteristics.
Zespri chief executive Lain Jager said those qualities made the G3 a cornerstone of the recovery pathway.
Of the hectares released, 1610 have been offered to Hort16A gold growers so those growers can start transitioning their orchards to G3. A further 359ha were released to non-Hort16A growers so they could diversify.
Hort16A growers were worst affected by Psa and Mr Jager said the plan reflected the need to replace the variety and "showed the resilience of our New Zealand kiwifruit growers".
At least 1000 kiwifruit growers who operate 1388 orchards are expected to graft in the new G3 variety from next month. The only other transition of such magnitude was in 2000, with the release of 1200ha of Hort16A.
"We think this is going to work, probably not the cultivar itself but the combination of the cultivar with pro-active management will work."
Mr Jager said there were 3000 hectares of Hort16A in total, including the 1610 approved for G3 grafting. About 1400ha of the variety would be left but those orchards were mostly in outlying areas and either did not have Psa or were not as badly affected.
Te Puke grower Rob Thode said the plan sounded "wonderful".
"Te Puke, it was like living in a massive cloud of disease that's been growing since November 2010," Mr Thode said.
Although green kiwifruit were not as susceptible at Hort16A gold, being near the orchards increased the risk of being infected. He hoped the G3 transition would happen quickly.
"It's like an avalanche-type disease. It's unstoppable once it starts, and it spreads like wildfire," Mr Thode said.
Te Puke grower Russell West said Zespri had "done right" to ensure most of the approved hectares went to Psa-affected growers "because everyone was coming from a different angle".
"Green growers felt gold growers were spoilt or favoured more but gold growers needed to get out of that," Mr West said. "Psa destroys gold. And there was the need to remove Psa and the incentive to do it and to finally have a pathway for the future is what the gold growers need."
However, Mr West was skeptical whether Zespri's announcement was the Psa answer.
"Until we see the death of Hort16A, everyone with Hort16A is going to get it eventually," Mr West said. "It's everywhere. It's on your cars, it's on your car seats. It's like gangrene in the flesh.
"This is a very risky thing we are dealing with now."