Fruit grower takes MPI to court over 'heartbreaking' mass plant destruction

A Cambridge fruit grower is taking the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to the High Court to try and save his livelihood.

MPI wants tens of thousands of plant cuttings imported from an American facility to be destroyed or contained.

The new apple varieties imported from the US are resistant to the worst fungus, insects, and bacteria. But MPI wants them destroyed within weeks, which grower Andy McGrath says is unacceptable.

"We've set out to create something positive, and to have it snatched back retrospectively for six years with virtually no compensation is just pretty heartbreaking really."

MPI says concerns about testing procedures at an American facility means some of the imported young plants could be contaminated with viruses or bacteria.

But Mr McGrath believes they've overreacted, and has lodged a judicial review in the High Court.

"These trees weren't imported into New Zealand, they were created in New Zealand from trees that were imported, so the act shouldn't apply," he says.

Nurseries and large growers would be hardest hit, and the flow-on effects would cost regional economies hundreds of millions of dollars.

Industry body Summerfruit NZ says it's a biosecurity issue.

"It's our expectation that trees in orchards will be destroyed," says Marie Dawkins. "And we support MPI's decision to allow the growers to manage that destruction process, rather than sending in a contractor."

Some plants would be contained in a facility, to be released back into the market in a few years if they're safe.

But for those growers affected, it'll mean an extended loss of income. It takes eight years from the time of planting for most fruit trees to produce a commercial return.

Mr McGrath is calling for common sense to prevail and together find a solution.