Keeping pests and diseases out an ongoing battle

Stu Hutchings

The kiwifruit industry has learned to live with Psa-V but still faces significant threats from other pests and diseases, says Stu Hutchings who takes up the role as chief executive of Kiwifruit Vine Health this month.

“The focus is on continuing to manage Psa-V but also on keeping out other unwanted pests and diseases, including the brown marmorated stink bug which would be a major threat if it became established here,” says Stu.

Like his predecessor, Barry O’Neil, Stu is a qualified veterinarian. In his most recent management role at OSPRI, Stu has been responsible for establishing the framework for delivery of a new long-term pest and disease management plan and several innovative research projects, and has managed relationships with the Ministry for Primary Industries and other primary industry groups.

“I know I have a lot to learn about the kiwifurit industry and I’m really looking forward to that, but when it comes to managing biosecurity risks, there are many similarities between kiwifruit and the industries I have been involved with,” he says.

“The big thing in both the livestock and horticultural industries is working with all the stakeholders. Among the first priorities in my new role will be getting to know kiwifruit growers to understand what they want and need to protect their livelihoods and for their industry to remain profitable.”

Stop pests

The most robust approach to biosecurity is to stop pests and diseases at the border, and even better before they get here.

However, with thousands of travellers arriving at airports every day, an increasing number of cruise ships visiting ports, and the growing volume of imports, the biosecurity risks are high.

“Education to increase awareness among the public is vital, in line with MPI’s Biosecurity 2025 statement which aims for every New Zealander to becomes a biosecurity risk manager and every business to manage their own biosecurity risk, in effect creating a biosecurity team of 4.7 million.”

Stu is also impressed with the inititaives of KVH and the Port of Tauranga to educate port staff about the risks to the horticultural industry of a wide number of insect pests and help them identify any which may arrive at the port.

Readiness and response

It’s an example of the leadership in the area of biosecurity that KVH and the kiwifruit industry has shown. That kiwifruit was the first industry to sign up to the Government Industry Agreement on Biosecurity Readiness and Response (known as GIA) is another example, he says.

“KVH chief executive Barry O’Neil was the driver behind the early adoption of GIA by the industry and other primary industries have now followed that lead.”

The joint government and industry approach to planning, readiness and response to biosecurity incursions which the GIA facilitates also brings a degree of transparency, he says.

Stu has experienced first-hand how, through management, coordination and a buy-in by the stakeholders involved, diseases can be managed. “When I was a vet practicing at Taupo in the 1980s I got involved in ther management of TB disease in deer. Nationally at the time around 1700 herds were infected. Today that’s down to about 50.”

Before taking up his new appointedment with KVH, Stu was group manager, programme design and partnerships for OSPRI and has had previous roles as acting chief executive for both the Animal Health Board and OSPRI. He has also held roles within private vet practice and risk management product development for the New Zealand Veterinary Association. 

He and wife Gaelyn Douglas are looking forward to the move from Wellington to Mount Maunganui.


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