It was an agribusiness disaster of epic proportions, and the humble kiwifruit was at the heart of it.
In 2010, a kiwifruit vine-eating disease called Psa quietly crept through the orchards of New Zealand’s Te Puke region.
Just like that, a billion-dollar industry was at a standstill and more than 3,000 growers were in crisis — until a fellow Chartered Accountant by the name of Trudi Ballantyne stepped in with an innovative solution.
No choice but to start over
On the frontlines of the kiwi catastrophe, the growers learned that the only way to control the spread of Psa was to cut out their vines. Having to cut out the vines would mean ‘greenfielding’ — a five year process whereby mature vines are removed and replaced with new plantings. This loss of their livelihoods was a devastating prospect.
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“Psa came and that was it, the handbrake came on,” says Steve Reynolds, one of the orchardists affected by the disease.
“We had to greenfield from the start again, and basically you have five years with no income.”
On top of this, many were facing the harsh reality that their farms, which they had worked years to build, were now worth next to nothing overnight.
“Psa, it was a tough ride. It was a really big thing to hit the industry,” says Mat Johnston of Mat Johnston Contracting Ltd.
“The vines were literally bleeding in front of our eyes, the sap was red. We had lost everything. It was tough times, it really was.”
Trudi takes the case
All of this quickly came to the attention of local resident and fellow Chartered Accountant, Trudi Ballantyne.
“As an accountant, you’re much more than just all about the numbers, you actually get to know the clients and the people really, really well,” Ballantyne says.
“I remember the day I first heard about Psa. We came across our neighbour and he said, ‘I’ve got this right through my orchard’, and it turns out that he was one of the first eight orchards that got Psa.
“That income that he thought was about to start flowing, didn’t. So that’s quite devastating for a grower to have to reflect on.”
But Ballantyne is more than an accountant. She’s a Chartered Accountant, which requires ongoing annual training. It’s this rigorous education that creates difference makers — accounting professionals whose expertise, forward-thinking and leadership abilities allow them to come up with and implement innovative solutions that others may not think of.
So, where most people saw a hopeless situation, Ballantyne saw an opportunity — rallying an entire community to help save the local kiwifruit growers from ruin.
How she did it
Ballantyne realised that cutting back the vines was in fact a type of ‘blackhole expenditure’ — expenditure that does not create income — and that it should therefore be tax-deductible.
Next, she led a group of accountants to lobby a change in tax legislation through the government. Reclassifying the cutting out of affected vines would help the orchardists get through the years financially as they rebuilt their businesses from the ground up.
“Ballantyne led the tax and accounting side of the recovery and brought the problems to our attention very quickly,” says Jim Gordon, formerly the senior technical tax advisor at the New Zealand Inland Revenue Department.
Gordon adds, “we proposed a law change to facilitate the ripping out of affected vines”, which in turn created a critical pathway to income equalisation for growers, helping them to stay afloat while the greenfielding process took root.
“By making these tax changes we were able to allow the growers to retain more cash and more equity in their business than they would have if we hadn’t changed the rules,” says Ballantyne.
All of this stands as a testament to Ballantyne’s solid client and community relationships, which created a groundswell movement that gained momentum to bring an industry back from the brink of collapse, and helped save thousands of livelihoods along the way.
Chartered Accountants Australia & New Zealand (CA ANZ) represents over 128,000 members globally.