Mid-January saw news arrive for Tasmanian apple growers that they thought they’d never hear – outbreaks of Queensland fruit fly.
From initial reports of detections on Flinders Island in Bass Strait to other detections at Spreyton, Sassafras and then George Town on the Tasmanian mainland.
“We first picked up about fruit fly when my wife Linda heard it on ABC Radio,” said Spreyton apple grower, Brett Squibb.
“I googled the ABC site and rang Fruit Growers Tasmania straight away.”
Brett said initially he thought it was the end of Tasmania’s protocol export access into markets.
“And the fact the initial detection was at Spreyton less than 2 km from me was really concerning.”
Both Brett and another Spreyton grower, Shane Weeks, said the first days were concerning with little information flowing through except through Fruit Growers Tasmania.
“It wasn’t until three days later I heard the Country Hour with a number to call Biosecurity before we had the first contact.”
Shane said he initially didn’t believe the reports, thinking comments on detections at Spreyton were mixed up with reports from Flinders Island.
“I got onto social media and saw some posts before I was contacted by an agronomist from Serv-Ag.”
The first restrictions placed the Spreyton growers and the key port at Devonport within the Control Zone, with Biosecurity Tasmania and Fruit Growers Tasmania working on protocols to re-open trade.
The international markets saw Taiwan close and then re-open markets, excluding fruit from the exclusion zone, while China imposed closer quarantine inspections for incoming Tasmanian fruit.
A further discovery south of Spreyton at Sassafras and later at George Town saw the Control Zone expanded covering a large section of North-West and Northern Tasmania.
On Flinders Island, a number of sites remain with Biosecurity Tasmanian conducting baiting, trapping and monitoring programs.
News of trace-back on infected fruit found in a Devonport supermarket to a Victorian fumigation facility came as a relief as it meant the potential source was identified. Although Agriculture Victoria found the Epping chamber passed audit, investigations will be ongoing as to how infected fruit entered into Tasmania.
The successful negotiation of a critical transport protocol allowing them to send fruit to the mainland just as growers commenced harvest in the last week of February was a rare piece of good news.
Geeveston apple producer John Evans said the issue was the use of Tautliners (curtain-sided trailers) for which there was no protocol for transit through the Northern Control Zone.
“The main issue is the bin size required by our mainland pack-house which cannot go in normal refrigerated trailers,” John said.
“Additionally we have to transit our apples through the Control Zone to Burnie in Tautliners which could have potentially opened an exposure to Queensland fruit fly.”
“Given many of us commenced harvest this week, we made a submission to Biosecurity Tasmania to review the use of the Tautliners.”
Following the grower submission and Biosecurity Tasmania review, transport of fruit and vegetables grown out of the Control Zone requiring movement through the control area required protection in secure packaging.
Tautliners can be now used, provided they are sealed and the fruit or vegetables are only destined for unregulated markets such as Victoria, NSW and Queensland. Time in the Control Zone including transit or loading is limited to one hour.
The protocol prohibits the use of Tautliners for the transport of produce destined for international protocol markets or regulated domestic markets such as South and Western Australia.
“This is a positive way fruit growers have engaged with Biosecurity Tasmania during this difficult phase across this very difficult time,” said John.
“Historically the State’s fruit growers have always found solutions for problems and this outcome is reflective of that approach.”
For the Spreyton growers, the last of the previous season’s apples went to juicing at Spreyton Fresh along with some of the new season’s Gravensteins and Golden Delicious. A Government assistance package will support the gap in price between juicing and commercial sales.
At the time of writing this article the three outbreak zones at Spreyton, Sassafras and George Town have not identified any further larvae or adult flies. Monitoring across the State’s 1400 trap system is ongoing, especially in key growing areas.
Regular growers meetings across all commodities are being held in the North-West. A fumigation chamber will soon be operational at Devonport Airport for produce heading into regulated markets.
For now – Tasmanian growers can just watch, wait and hope.
Biosecurity Tasmania – fruit fly detection updates and general fruit fly information.