FUNDING for a key group in the national fight against Queensland Fruit Fly (Q-fly) remains blurry as it awaits confirmation of state government support.
The GMV Regional Fruit Fly Project has made considerable efforts to reduce fruit fly numbers in recent years, however the Victorian Government is yet to advise whether the project will be funded after June 2020.
According to the group, industry insiders have warned Q-fly numbers will increase by between 60-70 per cent in the Goulburn Murray Valley (GMV) if continued prevention and management measures aren't funded beyond June this year.
"Despite the many economic challenges facing the government it's imperative and a matter of common sense that we continue to protect our horticultural industry by maintaining our focus on reducing the spread of fruit fly," Mr Siciliano said.
The group reported that the project has reduced fruit fly numbers by more than 73pc in Cobram and 60pc in Greater Shepparton, Campaspe and Strathbogie Shires.
A Victorian Government spokesperson said the department understood the importance of shared responsibility in managing the pest.
"Why we developed the action plan five years ago," the spokesperson said.
"The Goulburn Murray Valley Group and the Moira Shire have done an exceptional job implementing their Regional Action Plan with the award-winning 'No Flies On Us' program."
While no firm commitment was given to the project's future, Agriculture Victoria said it was "considering future fruit fly management arrangements".
"Regional Action Plans are funded through Agriculture Victoria's Fruit Fly Grants Program, which the government has invested $7.8 million in over the past three years," the spokesperson said.
"The Goulburn Murray Valley region was provided $684,000 in regional grants in 2019, with almost $600,000 funding to Moira Shire to implement its 2019-20 Regional Action Plans.
"An additional $200,000 in funding was also provided to support a Regional Coordinator to facilitate implementation of the Regional Action Plan."
Mr Siciliano said if funding for the project stops in June fruit fly numbers will increase to what they were before the project began.
"We will see an increase of 60-70pc across the GMV region which will bring with it huge blows for our growers and our horticultural industry," he said.
"At this point in time we are in a positive position because we have significantly reduced the threat of fruit fly.
"There is no question that the COVID-19 virus must have centre stage at the moment, but a rise in QFF numbers next fruit season will be the finish a lot of growers.
"If QFF is not managed, you can say goodbye to our fruit exports and forget about post COVID-19 recovery in horticulture.
"This is about assessing the threat to our industry and acting now to prevent losing next season's harvest. If the government is thinking recovery, it will be too late for us."
Summerfruit Australia deputy chair, Adrian Conti echoed the need to continue to protect the industry's longer-term prospects and prosperity.
"Next season the world will hopefully be coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic and export demands are expected to accelerate sharply," Mr Conti said.
"Our industry needs to be fruit fly free to take advantage of the expected global demand.
"We are involved in gaining and maintaining market access which relies on complying with strict protocols.
There will be an avalanche of fruit fly next season if funding stops and we go back to what it was like before we got it under control.- Michael Crisera, grower services manager, Fruit Growers Victoria
"It is critical to continue the work of the GMV Regional Fruit Fly Project as without this project we would not have been successful in dramatically reducing fruit fly populations to the point we are at today.
"Our exports to the end January were over 13,000 tonnes and up about 8pc on volume and our goal it so be able to continue this next season which is hopefully post the COVID-19 pandemic," Mr Conti said.
Fruit Growers Victoria grower services manager, Michael Crisera, also supported the continuation of the project.
"We have real concerns that funding for the project may cease in June and if this happens, it will seriously impact the industry's ability to control fruit fly and maintain export markets," Mr Crisera said.
"There will be an avalanche of fruit fly next season if funding stops and we go back to what it was like before we got it under control.
"It's imperative that the Governance Group continue, put simply, we must keep maggots out of our fruit so we can continue to expand our exports.
"As a representative of apple, pear and stonefruit growers we wholeheartedly support the project and recognise the enormous value it has been able to achieve for the region as a whole."
Tree removal another win
THE GMV Fruit Fly Project achieved an Australian first last month with the removal of some 90,000 unwanted fruiting trees and plants within the area in order to disrupt the Q-Fly's habitat since 2017.
The program allows for the removal of unwanted and unmanaged fruit trees in non-productive orchards to be professionally removed at no cost to the property owner.
A similar program facilitates the removal and eradication of unmanaged fruit fly habitat from private residential properties and public lands.
GMV Regional Fruit Fly coordinator, Ross Abberfield, said originally the focus was on unmanaged residential and public trees and plants but that was expanded to include unmanaged orchards, which make up a large percentage of the removals to date.
"We have been able to reduce potential breeding habitat by working with property owners to remove unmanaged orchards that have been non-productive for two consecutive seasons or more," Mr Abberfield said.
"These orchards are inspected by Agriculture Victoria staff to verify they meet the strict conditions necessary to qualify for the removal program."
"Every unmanaged fruit fly host tree and plant removed means a permanent reduction of suitable habitat for fruit fly to lay eggs and breed."
Evidence gained from the numerous trapping grids installed throughout the GMV indicate that the project has achieved a 60 per cent reduction in fruit fly numbers across the region and a 73pc reduction in Q-Fly numbers in Cobram, where over two million sterile male Q-Fly are dispersed by aircraft each week as part of a trial pilot program.
The free tree removal program is available within Campaspe, Greater Shepparton, Moira and Strathbogie Shires.
Anyone who has a fruit tree they no longer want or can no longer manage can contact their participating Council's customer service center or visit www.gmv-qldfruitfly.com.au for more information about the application process.