A BLUEBERRY disease previously thought to be eradicated eight years ago has been discovered on rural properties in Gippsland and the Yarra Valley.
A warning about the fungal disease Thekopsora minima, more commonly known as blueberry rust, was issued last week, as Agriculture Victoria chief plant health officer Rosa Crnov labelled it a "disappointing but unsurprising" development.
Experts believe a humid autumn contributed to the outbreak which mainly affects the leaves of bushes and can be found on cranberries, huckleberries, azaleas and lyonias.
Dr Crnov said the fungus was hard to eradicate because of its biology and spores, which when released from an infected plant, can be carried several kilometres in the wind.
"It's here, it's endemic and it's about living with the disease and limiting the impacts and supporting industries to be able to trade to sensitive markets," Dr Crnov said.
The disease can be found in other Australian states including NSW, Queensland and the NT.
- Pick your own strawberries providing education opportunities in Qld
- Prickly invader offering fruit fly haven
- Driscoll's markets "in conversion" blueberries at it moves to organic production
However, producers who export their product interstate to rust-free states could face some hurdles.
"It means if they are trading into sensitive markets like Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia, they will have to meet the entry conditions for those three states."
Agriculture Victoria said there were no signs of recent infection pathways linking the three farms in Gippsland and the Yarra Valley property, leading experts to believe the disease may have been present for at least two years prior to detection last month.
Dr Crnov, who said the disease could be treated with fungicides, said it was important farmers were aware of the symptoms, which included purple to brown spots, on the upper surface of the leaf, while under leaf surfaces could contain yellow or orange pustules.
"It's also important to practice good on-farm biosecurity hygiene, so don't leave leaf litter lying around because that could potentially have spores," Dr Crnov said.
Berries Australia executive director Rachel Mackenzie said the organisation was in discussions with the Victorian government about ways to manage the disease, including concepts for organic farmers who wished to retain their chemical-free status and combat the disease.
She said Berries Australia was awaiting confirmation from the government about what restrictions would be placed on Victorian growers.
"It also means that restrictions have been lifted on fruit coming into Victoria from New South Wales and Queensland," Ms Mackenzie said.
"For Victorian growers at the moment, we're in winter and it's not the production season so there is very little growers need to do now.
"However, when the season comes on over the summer, growers will need to be across their obligations and as a sector we'll be working with the government to manage different control techniques."
Sign up here to Good Fruit and Vegetables weekly newsletter for all the latest horticulture news each Thursday...