Devastation of PSA still felt by kiwifruit growers

Seven years after a disease devastated the kiwifruit industry in the Bay of Plenty some growers are still struggling.

Four years ago today, Barry and Jan Harris' Te Puke kiwifruit orchard was sold by the bank after it was ravaged by the vine-killing disease PSA.

Mr Harris says the loss was devastating.

"We were totally empty, run out by that stage. That's when you realise you've got nothing left. All the work you've done your whole life you've actually achieved nothing,” he told Newshub.

The couple planned to retire on the $1.2 million orchard, but walked away with nothing. Mr Harris, who is in his late 60s and in poor health, is now looking for a job so the couple can get by. 

"I'm hoping to get myself up to about 50 percent running order because I'm well below that at the moment, and I'll be able to hold down a job if I can get up to that." 

Seven years after the outbreak those who lost everything are still suffering. Many of those who are still in business are also hurting, as most orchards still have the disease. 

Kiwifruit grower Bob Burt, who is part of a group taking the government to court over the PSA outbreak, says this year has been the worst the disease has spread since 2010 due to a wetter and cooler winter.

He estimates that on average Te Puke orchards are producing a third less kiwifruit than they did before the outbreak.

"You could walk onto any orchard in the Bay of Plenty and you could find the effects of PSA.”

However, kiwifruit marketing company Zespri told Newshub while the effects of PSA are seen in an “uneven fashion” across the industry, overall the industry is growing strongly. It says kiwifruit sales are expected to more than double to $4.5 billion globally over the next seven years.

Zespri adds that orchard prices are at record highs. It says that the while the number of kiwifruit being produced by some orchards has dipped this year due to the weather, most growers have seen strong growth over recent years.

PSA has added about 10 per cent to the cost of running an orchard, but claims production is down 30 per cent are wrong, the company says.

A class action by 212 kiwifruit growers heard in the High Court earlier this year alleges negligence by the Ministry for Primary Industries is to blame for the outbreak. MPI has denied the allegation. Growers say PSA has cost the industry $800 million.

While growers wait for the outcome of the court case early next year, they want New Zealanders to know some are still doing it tough.