Zespri 'monitoring situation' after mystery disease devastates Italian kiwifruit orchards

New Zealand is the third-largest producer of kiwifruit in the world.
New Zealand is the third-largest producer of kiwifruit in the world. Photo credit: Getty

Zespri says it is "monitoring the situation" as a mystery disease devastates the Italian kiwifruit industry.

Authorities in Italy have set up a special taskforce to investigate the disease, which has left scientists baffled and ravaged orchards across the country.

According to The Guardian, morìa, or "die-off" first broke out near Verona in 2012 and now affects 25 percent of kiwifruit orchards in the country, costing the industry hundreds of millions of euros. In some places 80 percent of plants are affected.

Dr Juliet Ansell, head of global science innovation at New Zealand-based kiwifruit marketer Zespri, said the company was monitoring the situation overseas closely.

"The need to be vigilant around biosecurity remains something our industry is very aware of and the industry’s biosecurity arm, Kiwifruit Vine Health, is continuing to work hard to strengthen our biosecurity pathway plans," Dr Ansell said.

"Zespri is monitoring the situation offshore with Kiwifruit Vine Decline Syndrome (KVDS) closely, with members of our team actively involved in an industry-wide response through a KVDS taskforce recently formed by Zespri and its SunGold Kiwifruit partners."

She said the taskforce had been established to address the short and long-term challenges associated with KVDS, so industry knowledge could be shared to better understand the impact of the disease and develop tools to help growers.

"We know that optimising soil conditions is important for healthy root growth, and we’ll continue to work with industry so that on-orchard best practice in terms of biosecurity is maintained."

New Zealand's kiwifruit sector is well-aware of the damage widespread disease can cause. In 2010, the industry was hit by the bacterial disease PSA, which was estimated to have cost the sector around $885 million. 

New Zealand is the world's third-largest producer of kiwifruit, after China and Italy. 

Teresa Bellanova, Italy's agriculture minister, told The Guardian the die-off disease was an "emergency" for the country's industry.

So far researchers there have looked for the cause in irrigation practices, bacteria, fungi, soil composition and specific replant disease - but found no clues.

A genomics researcher from Italy's Council for Agricultural Research and Economics told the newspaper the disease was "like the coronavirus, if you will: when the symptoms appear, it's already too late".

"It's difficult for humans to heal; for kiwi vines, I'd say it's impossible."