Fruit growers to lose millions after MPI orders mass destruction

Apple and stone fruit growers are in panic following an order from the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) that's predicted to cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars.

MPI has ordered the containment or destruction of any plant material imported from a specific Washington-based testing facility in the last five years.

Apple, nectarine and cherry trees are all in the firing line as about 48,000 'at risk' plants could go up in flames - and grower Andy McGrath says it will cost the industry significantly.

"I know my stuff in this game, and what MPI is proposing is just ridiculous, preposterous," he told Newshub.

He says the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) estimated the potential cost to be in the range of $300 to $550 million, while AgFirst predicted $1.5 billion, mostly to regional economies.

"We know for some of the growers it's going to set them back at least a couple of years so we would expect it might cost them a few million dollars," said MPI plants and pathways director Peter Thomson.

"I've heard some numbers bandied around that it's going to be billions, but they're just not credible numbers when you look at the size of the industry."

Earlier this year, MPI found a series of failings with the Clean Plant Center Northwest, including incorrectly recorded test results. It's ordered the containment or destruction of any fruit plant with links to fruit cuttings or budwood imported from there since 2012.

Growers say MPI is over-reacting to a basic admin issue, and it's going to set them back 10 to 15 years.

"MPI have become very cautious after the PSA decision, so they're becoming overly cautious in any of these matters," says Mr McGrath.

"They're on record saying there's no risk, or negligible risk in their own communications - so we think it's a bit OTT."

MPI has been testing for months and has found only one 'weak-positive' result, but says destroying the plants is now an urgent matter.

"Spring is the time when most pests and diseases will be about, it’s the time when those insects can get into trees and have the potential to spread diseas that we're worried about," Mr Thomson said.

Summerfruit New Zealand says their growers will now burn around 33,000 trees in the next week, costing them 10 years' worth of growth and millions of dollars.

But they say there's no point risking biosecurity, and they'll just have to stomach it.

MPI will consider 'modest reimbursement' claims for losses incurred, which Mr McGrath calls a "joke". But growers won't be laughing.