Zespri has announced it is considering taking a new approach to deal with approximately 4,000ha of illegally planted New Zealand gold G3 kiwifruit in China.
Radio New Zealand (RNZ) reports the global kiwifruit marketer is considering co-operating with the Chinese kiwifruit growers, having come to the conclusion that eradicating the plants is simply not possible.
Growers in New Zealand pay hundreds of thousands of dollars per hectare to grow the variety and Zespri will continue looking at legal channels to protect its plant variety rights.
But Zespri chief grower and alliances officer Dave Courtney said it had been advised to trial working with the small growers in China, in the hope this would prevent more plantings.
The trial will take fruit from 50ha, equivalent to about 200,000 trays.
"As things look today, there will be substantial plantings of locally grown G3 in the market so what we are thinking is if we can procure some of that to hold our shelf space,” said Courtney.
“Just as we do with Italian fruit around the world at the moment for when we can't provide it at the moment. But we're walking very, very slowly as to understand how that works," he added.
Courtney described the trial as a pragmatic solution given there are different pathways that Zespri can take.
"We've got out and about and spoken to a number of companies, including some pretty big international brands that are producing or procuring food up there. Some have failed, and others have skinned their knees and been successful,” Courtney told RNZ.
“So, there's certainly enough light there to show it can be done but everyone in the end has to strike their own path. While we'll learn from these guys, we'll make our own way forward. We have to get our hands dirty basically," he said.
Courtney added that some growers believed the proposal made sense, but many were very uncomfortable and worried it would damage the Zespri brand.
The trials are anticipated to run over two seasons, with Zespri chief executive Dan Mathieson currently in China, meeting officials and others to promote Zespri's ideas.
In the past, Courtney said the Chinese orchards were not high producers, but if they learn to grow it well, it could push New Zealand fruit off supermarket shelves and reduce prices.