Last week marked a year since Queensland fruit fly larvae was found in apricots grown in a backyard on Lady Barron, Flinders Island.
It has been a long 52 weeks for Tasmanian producers, with many of the state’s prime fruit and vegetable crops grown within the Northern Control Area that spanned a large part of the North and North-West.
Tasmania’s mainland had its Pest Free Status reinstated, in regards to fruit fly, on January 9, but another fruit larvae was found in an imported nectarine bought at a Launceston supermarket less than 24 hours later.
Although the larvae detection did not impact the state’s fruit fly free status, it confirmed that more work was still needed when it came to monitoring biosecurity for Tasmania.
We’re certainly going to continue to explore how to make our Pest Free Status even more secure than it already is.
Biosecurity Tasmania staff are now in Victoria undertaking an investigation into how the larvae made its way to Tasmania, a Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Wildlife and Environment spokesperson said.
“The suspect produce has been removed from stores and Biosecurity Tasmania is undertaking trace-back and trace-forward investigations which have, so far, determined that the fruit was most likely part of a consignment of nectarines from a single importer,” the spokesperson said.
“We have protocols for these types of detections, should they occur, and we have implemented them to remove the risk and investigate all aspects of this detection.”
What has fruit fly cost Tasmania?
The full costs of the state’s fruit fly incursion is yet to be calculated, but it has been a very costly exercise for many producers, Fruit Growers Tasmania chief executive Stuart Burgess said.
“We’re yet to be in a position to come up with final metrics around costs,” Mr Burgess said.
However, there were some costs that had already been itemised.
“There was a direct cost to businesses in a compliance context. It cost some individual growers upwards of $350,000 just for the fumigation process of some products, for example last season’s apples,” he said.
“There are those direct costs, and the cost of lost opportunity, as growers haven’t been able to get their products to customers, like Turners Beach Berry Patch. The other aspect is the additional costs of lost opportunity, where markets have been lost and now growers are having to re-engage with those customers so they can recoup those.
“The businesses impacted have been working hard to solve this.”
Moving away from the costs to growers, the incursion also had a great cost to the state, with the tally reaching $11 million as at December 2018.
This figure comprises biosecurity response activities, communication materials and the Growers and Post-Farm Gate Assistance Programs, the department spokesperson said.
“This figure does not include the human relations services, finance services and IT services, which are incorporated within DPIPWE’s day-to-day functions,” the spokesperson said.
What is the impact on Tasmanian exports?
Taiwan, China and Indonesia suspended the import of fruit fly host produce during the incursion and growers hope these restrictions will soon be lifted.
Mr Burgess said his organisation and both the state and federal governments were working hard to instil confidence that Tasmanian produce was fit for export once again.
“One of the things we learned is that every angle of the market has to be managed. The federal government, in their negotiations with trading partners, have found different countries have different responses [to fruit fly],” he said.
Despite pest-free status being returned to Tasmania, the flow-on effect is still being felt.
“Indonesia is still saying no right across the board. They set a meeting date for late January to discuss it, but nothing is getting through there at the moment, so we’ll miss this season with cherries,” Mr Burgess said.
What did we learn?
Tasmania has always enjoyed it’s reputation as being a clean, green state, with residents and governments alike defending our tight biosecurity restrictions.
One of the biggest lessons from the 2018 fruit fly incursion was that biosecurity needed to be even more stringent than it was.
“We have to keep reminding ourselves that stopping things pre-border is a priority and we can then work backwards from there,” Mr Burgess said.
The response to the incursion involved the entire state, which strengthened our resolve to win back our fruit fly free standing, he said.
“Everyone has been involved, in a Tasmanian context, from the state and federal governments, to the local councils, the growers themselves, all their customers and the people living here, and they have been supporting that.”
“Everyone is on board to make sure we maintain our Pest Free Status to support growers and jobs and to build our economy more broadly,” he said.
Work is already underway within the agricultural community to ensure an incursion like this does not hit Tasmania’s shores again.
“We’re certainly going to continue to explore how to make our Pest Free Status even more secure than it already is,” Mr Burgess said.
As mentioned above, the control zone restrictions for mainland Tasmania were lifted earlier this month, and the control zone for the Furneaux Group of Islands is expected to be lifted in March 2019 “subject to no further fruit fly being found”, the department spokesperson said.
At the same time as the biosecurity work is happening, a lot of effort has been put into building the state’s reputation for high quality pest-free produce back up again.
“We need to work hard to promote the benefits of Tassie brands through communication channels with potential buyers,” Mr Burgess said.