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New Zealand’s kiwifruit industry is anxious over the recent confirmation by biosecurity experts that the bacteria – Pseudomonas syringae pv actinidiae (Psa) – has infected New Zealand vines, according to the NZ Herald.

Growers are uncertain of the impact of this discovery but are worried about the impact on the billion-dollar industry from the infestation, found in the Bay of Plenty region.

“If [Psa] has been here for 10 years and is quite widespread, but not having a big impact on vines and only presenting by leaf spot in a couple of orchards – that’s a very different issue to if it’s just been introduced and it’s only present in a very small area,” Peter Ombler, president of New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI), was quoted by the Herald saying.

Ombler said if the disease has been in New Zealand for many years, but was causing only minimal damage, that would mean it was something “we can live with”.

That had been proven during a Psa outbreak in Japan, when that country was able to control the disease, he said.

Ombler said the other scenario – that the disease had recently arrived in this country – meant it could be contained and dealt with “quite quickly”.

“We’re just trying to come to grips with it,” he said. “Containment is a smart option if we can get it quick enough.”

Ombler said Kiwifruit growers were feeling “pretty anxious” about the outbreak.

“It’s a very recent issue … Our focus is now to communicate with growers to make sure they understand the risk and aren’t inadvertently spreading this around the industry through bad practice [like] taking infected secateurs or tractors from one orchard to another.”

Ombler said it was too early to say what the impact on New Zealand Kiwifruit growers would be if this country suffered a similar Psa outbreak to that seen in Italy, which had its industry was badly damaged by the bacteria.

The strain of bacteria in New Zealand has not yet been identified, but the one which caused the worst damage in Italy particularly affected gold cultivars – including Zespri’s lucrative Hort16A.

Gold kiwifruit are the most profitable cultivar in New Zealand, making up 77,000 tonnes or 21% of Zespri’s production last season, but about 34% of the crop’s earnings of $285.7 million.

Zespri is working closely with scientists and research partners to determine the most effective and appropriate control mechanism, which it says will partly be directed by the geographical location, proximity to other orchards and the site’s risk profile.

According to Stuff.co.nz, Zespri has lost 50% of its gold cultivar vines in Italy.

The industry employs over 20,000 people and is worth $1.5 billion in exports.

Labour leader Phil Goff said the contamination underlined the risk the Government had taken in cutting jobs.

”It doesn’t make sense to cut corners on biosecurity when you’ve got big risks like this PSA disease for kiwifruit vines. We should be putting enough money into there, not cutting staff, not cutting millions of dollars out of the biosecurity budget.

”When you’ve got a $22 billion industry, you can’t short-change biosecurity and they’ve cut money and they’ve cut positions,” Goff was quoted saying. – Sources: NZHerald; Stuff.co.nz

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