SA fruit harvest to loses shine

Loxton Q-fly outbreak lingers


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Loxton North growers Andrew Proud, Ben Wehrmuller, Alysha Wehrmuller and Brayden Proud began picking these chardonnay grapes this week.

Loxton North growers Andrew Proud, Ben Wehrmuller, Alysha Wehrmuller and Brayden Proud began picking these chardonnay grapes this week.

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The effects of Q-fly have tainted the Loxton grape harvest.

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THE ongoing Queensland fruit fly clean up in the Loxton region is expected to take the “shine off” what has been considered a reasonable season.

Vintage is well under way at 180-hectare Sherwood Estates at Loxton North, starting with Chardonnay grapes on February 3.

Grower Alysha Wehrmuller said the season was about two weeks behind because of the heatwave in January.

“It won’t be a bumper season because of the lack of rain and some frosted patches, but vintage should be pretty good, better than last year,” she said.

Being within the 15-kilometre fruit fly suspension zone, Ms Wehrmuller said their fruit would require “a lot more paperwork” when moved off-property.

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“We are lucky most of our grapes will be processed within the suspension zone, so it’s not as time consuming,” she said. 

“But anything we transport out of the zone will require special accreditation for every load.”

The incursion was found south of Loxton in early December and a 1.5km outbreak zone was identified.

Fruit cannot be removed from properties within this outbreak area, while growers within a 15km suspension zone surrounding the outbreak area have to follow strict protocols when moving produce.

Protocols include Interstate Certification Accreditation, fumigation or specific fortnight-long cold sterilisation of fresh produce.

Further detections of Q-fly this month mean these restrictions have been extended until at least April 29 and the outbreak area was extended an extra 400 metres to the south.

The Arnold family at Pyap, within the suspension zone, said their season had also been good, but ongoing detections were concerning. 

“Our grapes stay within Loxton so it’s business as usual for vintage,” Michael Arnold said.

“But continuing detections will affect our citrus harvest – how much depends on when the suspension is lifted.

“We know we will lose certain export markets because of their sensitive protocols, regardless of whether the outbreak is cleaned up by harvest time. 

Riverland Fruit Fly Committee members - Summerfruit SA representative Jason Size and Citrus Australia SA Region chair Steve Burdette with Primary Industries Minister Tim Whestone and Biosecurity SA's Richard Schepel at one of the new quarantine bins.

Riverland Fruit Fly Committee members - Summerfruit SA representative Jason Size and Citrus Australia SA Region chair Steve Burdette with Primary Industries Minister Tim Whestone and Biosecurity SA's Richard Schepel at one of the new quarantine bins.

“If detections persist, we will also have to consider baiting a few weeks before harvest. But the big cost will be if we have to cold sterilise our fruit as part of management protocols.”

Mr Arnold said it was lucky prices for citrus were good at the moment.

“Last time this happened, adding the $100 a tonne to $200/t cold storage fee really hurt margins,” he said.

“Thankfully we don’t have to fumigate, yet.” 

For now, Mr Arnold said it was mainly “business as usual”, with a heightened focus on orchard hygiene.

“This outbreak needs to be nipped in the bud soon because if they’re still finding incursions by the end of February that will have the potential to effect our whole marketing season,” he said.

“It will be a shame, because we have just come off a really good season and this outbreak will take a lot of shine off that.”

Summerfruit SA representative and Bookpurnong stonefruit grower, Jason Size, was thankful his operation was just outside the suspension zone, by about 400 metres.

“The cost of protocol arrangements for stone fruit being moved out of the zone, such as fumigation and cold sterilisation, would be devastating for my business," he said.

“The extra cost in a low margin industry, we potentially wouldn’t harvest, but I haven’t heard of this happening to anybody yet.”

That is why it is so important to remain vigilant in keeping this region fruit fly-free. - Jason Size

He also hadn’t heard of anyone choosing to fumigate, with most growers either processing fruit immediately within the zone or considering cold sterilisation.

“Unfortunately though, while accredited cold sterilisation is an option, the process can be quite harsh on the fruit, particularly stone fruit, as the temperature has to be very cold,” he said. 

“So there are options but it becomes seriously limited in where you can sell.

“The fresh market option is all but gone, including no farmers markets and no roadside stalls.

“And knowledge of an outbreak in the region, whether you are in the zone or not, can put some markets off.”

Mr Size said most growers he had spoken to within the zone had been understanding of the situation and were working with Biosecurity SA to reduce further risk. 

“Biosecurity SA have covered the cost of any accreditations required, but any fumigation or cold store costs are taken on by the grower,” he said.

“That is why it is so important to remain vigilant in keeping this region fruit fly-free.

As part of the response, a team of dedicated domestic market access personnel have been deployed to assist growers with queries in regards to the movement of produce and quarantine restrictions. - Tim Whetstone, SA Primary Industries Minister

“The benefits we get from being fruit fly-free, just in the citrus industry is more than $4 million in savings. In stone fruit, I estimate we save at least $15,000 in cost/ha/year by not having to control fruit fly.

“Plus if we had to chemically treat fruit, we would attract a lower price per box, about $4-$5 less per box.”

Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone said PIRSA had 50 officers on the ground trying to eradicate the flies, including bait application, hygiene and movement controls.

“As part of the response, a team of dedicated domestic market access personnel have been deployed to assist growers with queries in regards to the movement of produce and quarantine restrictions,” he said.

“A dedicated phone number – 1800 255 556 – has also been established to assist with industry queries.”

Mr Whetstone said as the region was out of citrus season, which normally starts in April, and at the tail end of the stone fruit season, the impact on growers was lower.

“PIRSA is working closely with grapegrowers as we head into vintage,” he said.

“I take the threat of fruit fly in SA very seriously, which is why the government recently implemented a zero tolerance approach at the borders.

“The zero tolerance policy is aimed at changing the attitude of motorists who flout the law and bring produce into SA.

“This type of behaviour is putting Riverland industries and communities at risk of economic devastation from fruit fly.

“There have been more than 450 offence reports made under the new approach, which shows far too many drivers continue to bring fruit into SA.

“As part of the zero tolerance approach, the government has also increased audits of accredited businesses transporting produce into the state, higher scrutiny at quarantine stations to ensure empty fruit bins being transported are properly cleaned and extra bin inspections at Yamba and Pinnaroo quarantine stations (trucks returning with fruit due to incomplete cleaning will be turned around at the border), a Sterile Insect Technology fly release in an interstate buffer zone (across the border in Vic) to protect the Riverland Pest-Free Area, and the continuation of checking 7500 trap sites across the state.”

Need to know more? Visit: pir.sa.gov.au

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