Kiwifruit Disease Spreads to South Island, Threatening New Zealand's Crop

The kiwifruit disease that is infecting orchards in New Zealand has spread beyond the North Island town where it was first discovered and has been found on the nation’s South Island.

Two orchards on the South Island and five orchards elsewhere in the North Island have tested positive for the bacterial disease Pseudomonas syringae pv actinidiae, Biosecurity Minister David Carter told reporters in Wellington today. The infection was first discovered in the town of Te Puke in the Bay of Plenty area.

There are now 28 orchards in New Zealand that have the disease, which infects kiwifruit vines, according to the statement. Some growers have begun culling their vines to stop the spread of the infection that threatens the country’s NZ$1.4 billion ($1.07 billion) industry, Zespri Group Ltd, the world’s largest marketer of the fruit, said yesterday.

“There is an urgency to deal with the current situation,” said Carter. “We simply don’t know how the disease got here.”

Members of the kiwifruit industry asked the government for financial support in meetings held today to discuss a response, Carter said. While he declined to comment on the amount involved, it could be “tens of millions” of dollars, Zespri spokeswoman Andrea Brady said an interview yesterday.

‘Fast Changing’

“Confirmation this morning that PSA disease has spread outside of the Te Puke area is a blow and shows how fast- changing the situation is,” Carter said in an earlier statement. The new cases don’t “mean the disease is spreading wildly. Rather it could indicate that it may have been here for some time.”

New Zealand is the world’s third-biggest kiwifruit grower, accounting for about 21 percent of global production. The country earned NZ$1.4 billion from kiwifruit in the year ending in March, according to Zespri figures.

Seeka Kiwifruit Industries Ltd., New Zealand’s largest grower of the fruit, said six orchards that supply its fruit, including two it leases and manages, have PSA.

The affected sites were in Te Puke and represented about 2 percent of its total supply, the company said in a statement sent to the stock exchange.

Seeka’s shares rose 5 cents, or 2.3 percent, to NZ$2.20 at the 5 p.m. market close in Wellington, after falling 31 percent in the previous two days.

To contact the reporter for this story: Chris Bourke in Wellington at cbourke4@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Iain Wilson at iwilson2@bloomberg.net

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