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A row has broken out between two giants of the kiwifruit industry.

Satara Co-operative Group has told its kiwifruit growers in Te Puke, the zone worst-hit by the Psa virus, not to invest in new cultivars being offered by Zespri International, according to Bay of Plenty Times.

And it has advised its other growers in the Bay of Plenty to hold off for a year or so.

Satara managing director Tom Wilson told his growers outside Bay of Plenty that “importing Psa into your area with new cultivar graft wood is high risk”.

About 556 growers from Zespri’s stable of 2700 were last year licensed to grow three new kiwifruit cultivars on 600ha of land. The licences provided 200ha for the gold3 cultivar, 250ha for gold9 and 150ha for green14.

“The risk you are taking on demands that you pay nothing for the Zespri new cultivar licence,” he said.

Wilson said Psa was the most significant event the industry had faced since the collapse of the Kiwifruit Marketing Board in the early 1990’s, which featured “financial devastation” and a “significant” drop in crop volume.

“Psa has all the signals of being financially worse than this,” he said.

“There is clear evidence that some growers, packhouse operators and contractors in the industry will financially fail as a result of the Psa crisis.”

But kiwifruit giant Zespri International has hit back at Satara’s warning.

Zespri spokesperson Dave Courtney said growers were commercial business owners and any new variety licensing decisions should be made at the orchard level, not “industry-wide”.

Zespri plans to make a decision later this week about which new variety licences will be made available for interested growers.

Earlier this year they made a commitment to releasing at least another 200ha of one or more varieties and say the decision will be made in the context of market demand, industry growth strategies and Psa.

Courtney said growers should make their own decisions based on individual circumstances.

He said no graft wood would be taken from the Te Puke area and there were strict controls in place for orchards where graft wood could be taken from, such as the orchard having to be tested for Psa.

Chief executive of New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Mike Chapman said everyone had a view on the issue and said it was not for Zespri to dictate what growers did.

Chapman, based in Mount Maunganui, said there was a different risk profile in Te Puke compared to the rest of the country.

“If you’re outside Te Puke and your orchard is in an area well protected and clear of Psa-V, new varieties may be a good option for you,” he said

“In Te Puke, it is totally different circumstances and you’d be making your decision very carefully,” Chapman said.

Chapman said he understood a lot of Te Puke growers would not be considering new varieties this year.

Background The disease was discovered in New Zealand last November.

It has since been found in two strains, with the most virulent type, Psa-V on 122 of the 189 Psa-infected orchards around Te Puke.

Psa-V is spread by wet, windy, warm weather. The other way is by the movement of plant material. This is why the risk in Te Puke is greater and also why MAF has imposed movement control stopping nursery plants being moved out of Te Puke.

A total of 239 orchards on 747ha were listed as infected earlier this month – including sites in Franklin, Hawke’s Bay, Katikati, Poverty Bay, Tauranga, Whakatane/Edgecumbe, Waikato, Golden Bay, Horowhenua and Motueka.

— Source: Bay of Plenty Times

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