COMMERCIAL fruit and vegetable growers in the peri-urban environs of Melbourne are cooperating in a project to ensure Victoria’s Yarra Valley orchards and crops are free from Qld fruit fly (QFF).
It is part of a major area-wide management initiative funded through Agriculture Victoria to protect the State’s food export markets.
The project targets commercial and backyard growers, understanding the impact and risk of home grown produce to the horticulture industry.
It builds on a growing concern for protecting food growers’ markets against pest incursions that begin in urban backyards.
This was illustrated in 2017 by the outbreak of Tomato Potato Psyllid in Western Australia – first detected in a backyard plant – that prevented the export of seed potatoes and tomato seedlings into eastern States.
With QFF prevalent in Qld, NSW and northern Victoria, local vigilance was important, according to project officer, Bronwyn Koll.
“The Yarra Valley has a history of fruit trade based on QFF freedom, only recently suspended due to a detection in the region,” she said.
“QFF is an issue as close as Bendigo, Cobram, Shepparton and Bairnsdale so it’s important we are vigilant if we’re going to keep it out of this region, particularly high value horticultural areas like the Yarra Valley.”
An estimated 4.5 million tourists visit Yarra Valley wineries each year; on top of that is an established multi-generational horticulture industry growing apples, soft fruit and berries.
Many of those orchards exist within closely settled and expanding residential areas.
“QFF populations often start when people bring infested fruit and vegetables from other parts of Victoria or Australia into a region. The problem is exacerbated if backyard growers don’t harvest their fruit or vegetables in a timely manner,” Ms Koll said.
One female QFF can lay up to 800 eggs in her short lifetime. This can manifest into 700,000 flies in a fruit season.
“Travellers in the Yarra Valley region should be aware of the risk. If you buy fruit in areas where fruit fly exists, leave it behind, eat it all or cook if before travelling into the district,” Ms Koll said.
“Commercial and backyard growers should remove unwanted or unmanaged host plants, practice good biosecurity and monitor for fruit fly.
“Monitoring for fruit fly includes the use of traps and regular fruit inspections.
“Everyone should report suspect damage and communicate with neighbours and industry colleagues.”
If QFF infested fruit is found in the backyard orchard, the larvae needed to be destroyed; Ms Koll said this was best done by freezing the fruit solid or boiling the infested fruit to kill the larvae.
“Obviously, some more practical solutions are needed for large scale fruit and larval destruction,” she said.
“For commercial producers, Box Hill Institute’s Biosecurity Centre of Excellence is looking into non-chemical fruit destruction options such as fermentation, on-farm maceration and desiccation options or a combination of these.”
In the Sunraysia district of Victoria, a significant investment has been made in identifying hotspots and deploying mass baiting and traps.
The Greater Sunraysia Pest Free Area Industry Development Committee is coordinating efforts to eradicate fruit fly from the region and return it to a pest free area.
In recent years the committee has successfully coordinated a mass trapping program in Swan Hill, expanding across the pest free area.
The Goulburn Murray Valley region stretches along the Moira and Campaspe shires through the Goulburn Valley and down into the Strathbogie Ranges.
This horticulture production area produces pears, apples, stonefruit including cherries, tomatoes and grapes.
A trapping program was established across the region in commercial orchards and urban areas to monitor fruit fly populations.
The Goulburn Murray Valley Governance Group began a host tree removal program to reduce the number of unwanted host trees and fruit fly breeding sites.
They also run a community awareness campaign including workshops so everyone understands their role in fruit fly control and how they can reduce QFF populations in the region.
Agribusiness Yarra Valley has rolled out a QFF awareness and prevention program for commercial growers and local residents with a range of QFF monitoring equipment, including solar-powered monitoring traps capable of delivering a live feed to the project leader and invested growers.
Ms Koll said it was a cost-effective investment in early detection of QFF, particularly on farms in remote and hard-to-access areas.
“The automation gives the farmer ease of access to the data and I can check in several times a day to a live feed to see what’s going on in the lure trap,” she said.
“It’s an effective alternative to a weekly physical visit by a QFF inspector.”
Other initiatives included partnering with community groups interested in rabbit control to eradicate blackberries, especially roadside canes nearby orchards.
“Roadside blackberries are an ideal vector for the fly to lay eggs,” Ms Koll said.
The focus of the project, which Ms Koll is funded to coordinate until June 2019, was community education and engagement.
“Once we know we have a problem we can take actions, such as extra trapping, mating disruption, targeted protein baiting, crop protection; and concentrate on appropriate fruit disposal to prevent re-infestation,” she said.
“For many years, we have grown fresh produce in the Yarra Valley with no pressure from QFF, avoiding prevention and management systems.
“If we prevent QFF in our region, we prevent incurring this cost to our production, we can maintain our premium quality fruit and we can spend our time and energy on better managing other pests and disease.”
Integrated pest management was a valuable tool in horticultural production systems.
The problem with chemical control options for use against QFF was the effect these products can have on beneficial insects, which can reduce pesticide use.
“Preventing QFF in the Yarra Valley is a far cheaper and more effective option with less side effects and every effort should be made to keep the Yarra Valley fruit fly free,” Ms Koll said.