NZ kiwfruit growers could cut back gold variety vines in Te Puke -

NZ kiwfruit growers could cut back gold variety vines in Te Puke

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NZ kiwfruit growers could cut back gold variety vines in Te Puke

Gold kiwifruit growers in New Zealand's Te Puke region may need to cut back vines as the dominant Hort16 variety has proven highly vulnerable to Psa-V disease. The vast majority of the country's orchards infected with Psa-V are in the region, which also accounts for 45% of New Zealand's gold kiwifruit production. At we catch up with industry players to discuss the options producers face and a feeling of hope mixed with uncertainty.

New Zealand currently has 2,330 hectares of Hort16A kiwifruit orchards, but if every grower in Te Puke were to cut back their vines the country would be left with less than 1,300 hectares of the variety. It is a situation that has not yet panned out and may not happen, but it is under serious consideration from the industry.

Ultimately it will be the growers themselves who decide what path to take in the face of this disease, which has devastated farms on New Zealand's North Island for more than a year now.

A Zespri spokesperson has told there are 700 hectares of two more tolerant gold varieties G3 and G9, but none of this land will be in full production yet as it has only been grafted over the past two seasons.

He says many in the industry have come to the conclusion that the future of Hort16A is 'limited', with many growers in the Te Puke area considering cutting out the variety prior to, or immediately after the 2012 harvest.

"We are still learning about the ability of our new Gold varieties to withstand Psa-V, and while it looks promising at the moment this may change as the season progresses. It will not be until March that firm decisions can be made," he says.

"It is premature to be talking about a straight 'swap' from one Gold variety to the next as there are many market considerations that need to be taken into account to ensure large scale production of any new Gold variety is as commercially successful as the original Gold variety.

"Even if the new Gold varieties do prove to be a pathway out of Psa-V, it will be at least three years until the industry is again producing crop volumes at levels similar to those prior to the impact of Psa-V."

Cause for optimism

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc's outgoing president Peter Ombler has told the industry is hopeful despite the current challenges.

"We're going to have to make decisions without complete information so we don't expect the road to be smooth - there's still water to go under the bridge but certainly I think there is cause for optimism," he says.

"I think we’re going to see a lot of people change varieties this  coming winter in June-July 2012. A number of people in Te Puke have already cut their vines off and have got a stump there waiting for grafting a new variety to change to, and when that change comes in 2012 it will be a few years before there’s any meaningful production.

"New Zealand will continue to supply gold kiwifruit from other regions, at least that’s what we’re hoping for. Then you have to remember that 70% of the planted area in New Zealand is with green kiwifruit, and it looks like they will hopefully get through the problems that Psa has presented."

Zespri says infected gold kiwifruit orchards in Te Puke put other varieties at risk, but echoes Omblerin highlighting that Hort16A production is continuing as normal in other non-infected parts of the country.

"Based on observations it appears the original Gold variety is particularly susceptible to Psa-V, and as such is a significant source of the bacteria, which may put other more tolerant kiwifruit varieties such as Green at greater risk of infection.

"Given this, there is a view within the industry that it may need to consider proactively cutting out the original Gold variety in the Te Puke area to reduce the Psa-V threat to other kiwifruit varieties in surrounding orchards.

"In other areas of the country with low Psa-V infection, or no detected Psa-V infection, it is likely growers will continue to farm through, which will help ZESPRI meet the strong market demand for Gold kiwifruit, but has been considered by the industry and the early stages are starting to be seen."

Satara chairman Hendrik Pieters says the situation is still uncertain about what the future holds for gold kiwifruit production in Te Puke.

"We won't know the extent of the final reduction in volumes probably until May, and equally there’s a lot of information that needs to come through  in terms of what varieties may be able to be grafted onto existing root stocks at that time," he says.

"From a post-harvest perspective, we’re having to plan around a high level of uncertainty with regard to how quickly and ultimately what volume of the gold product we have that will be cut off and/or left fallow or converted over the next two to three years.

"This is an unfolding situation and it’s just frustrating, and it’s all about the science, not the money. If you could put a hundred million dollars in tomorrow and find a fix you’d do it, but it’s just a matter of making progress on how to battle a plant bacteria, and that's really difficult from what we can see."

He says while the current situation is obviously difficult, the mood has changed somewhat in New Zealand's kiwifruit industry.

"We’re still in a process of assessing, so we’ve gone from a mood that was depressed about the extent to which Psa’s going to have an impact on the industry, to the latest announcements around the possibility there’s a level of tolerance in the root stocks, and or in the new varieties, and that’s lifted spirits.

"In summary we’ve come out of a mood of desperation to one of a few glimmers of hope."

Photo: Zespri

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