Dec 13, 2017 - The apple industry is still not sure of the cost of a fungicide contamination which has threatened to destroy 35 hectares of apples in Hawke's Bay and lop several million dollars off the value of the export harvest.
The issue first came to light when Nelson-based Adama New Zealand was alerted by a Hawke's Bay orchardist on October 5 to a potential issue with blemishes discovered on the leaves and young buds of some Royal Gala tree varieties.
The company, part of a world-leading crop protection group, began an investigation which led less than a fortnight later to the pre-emptive recall of cover spray Mancozeb.
It was later found a batch imported from India contained fungicide Azoxystrobin — commonly used in the growing industry, but not for apples, and a complete no-no for the signature New Zealand variety of Royal Gala.
The fungicide caused russet on apple skins, knocked apples off trees prematurely and damaged leaves, and it was reported soon afterwards that 185 hectares had been affected, mainly in the Nelson region, where 20 growers were compromised, but also 35ha in Hawke's Bay, where nine growers were affected, understood to be primarily in the Havelock North area.
Adama NZ chief executive David MacGibbon said on November 3 when announcing the permanent recall of Mancozeb from sale, that while the product was not one produced by his company, he was "devastated" by the impact on growers who he said were "like family to us, many of us have known each other for decades".
"Mancozeb has been a widely used product in spring for apple growers since we started selling it 10 years ago," he said. "There have never been any issues before."
"However, we will not be selling it again as we have now lost our faith in its manufacturer. This is the only product they produce for us."
It doesn't affect last season's apples, which had been applied with previous uncontaminated batches of Adama Mancozeb, and the company is continuing to run tests heading towards harvest in the current season on all crops where the product has been used, and will further support growers, Mr MacGibbon said.
Hastings-based industry leader Alan Pollard, CEO of New Zealand Apples and Pears, which until April was known as Pipfruit New Zealand, said yesterday a tracking system managed to establish quickly which growers had received the rogue batch, but while it is now more than two months since the alarms were first sounded it would be still a while before the cost could be established.
Insurance risk assessors have been working with growers and the company, and costs are assessed on the "physical loss" (complete destruction) and "economic loss" which includes diminished value of fruit able to be salvaged but not able to be exported.
With almost 10,000ha of apple orchard nationwide, the area affected represents about 1.85 per cent, which Mr Pollard said may be the equivalent of stock lost most years because of hail damage, and some of the loss is being minimised by thinning.
But based on the value of last year's exports — about $800 million — export market losses in Hawke's Bay could be about $3 million.
The product at the centre of the problem was just one of several of its type and orchardists have had other options.
| A Hawkes Bay Today release || December 12, 2017 |||