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Fruit Fly Strategy funding in Victoria: what the budget means for you

Pest and Disease Management

We discuss fruit fly prevention funding with Bronwyn Koll, who will present at the upcoming APAL Forum 2021 – Grow Beyond on orchard sanitation and industry best practice in fruit fly management.

Bronwyn Koll, Regional QFF Coordinator for the Yarra Valley

A $6.4 million investment in the Fruit Fly Strategy was announced as part of the 2021/22 Victorian State Budget last month, with $5.3 million of that available in grants to help manage Queensland Fruit Fly (QFF) in the three key regions: Yarra Valley, Sunraysia and Goulburn Murray.

This will be allocated to the three regions on an as-needs basis over four years. Regions will be going through the grant application process in the coming months, working with communities and supported by the State-wide Coordinator.

For Bronwyn Koll, Regional QFF Coordinator for the Yarra Valley, these grants are vital for funding on-the-ground extension and engagement programs aimed at educating and changing behaviours in the entire region, from the growers to residents, tourists, community groups and government.

“Having a centrally run regional program means we can share our tailored communication and engagement messages within our networks to help residents and land managers, as well as support industry with best practice information,” Bronwyn said.

“When we first started this program there was a lot of hesitation about how real the risk of QFF in the Yarra Valley was. The evidence that QFF can be in the Yarra Valley in isolated cases has been pretty shocking, but has encouraged people to make changes. We have a high level of education and risk-awareness with our growers and in our communities. We’ve proven our early detection and rapid response program works.”

Last year was a perfect storm for fruit fly proliferation:

  • La Niña weather created ideal fruit fly breeding conditions
  • Multiple factors contributed to fruit not being picked, resulting in fruit being left to ripen and drop in some orchards. These situations gave QFF an increased breeding opportunity in some areas. e.g. COVID-19 based border closures caused harvest labour shortages, impacted export options and in some cases low domestic fruit prices occurred.

As such, the announcement of four-year funding grants to tackle fruit fly in Victoria has been welcome news.

The opportunity for co-investment is one possible option in the longer four-year grant period of this new round of funding.

“One barrier to co-investment has been uncertainty about the longevity of past projects,” Bronwyn said.

“As a fruit grower, I would have trouble investing in a one-year plan. The QFF issue needs a long-term fix and a long-term management plan, and having that budget promise for longer term, even a reduced amount over a four-year period, will support that.”

“However, we know that growers already invest in fruit fly management, with both their time and money. They invest in monitoring, prevention, staff training, and managing risks associated with fruit from other regions coming into packhouses. Growers also know that some of their yearly fruit levy money also goes to fruit fly research. This contribution needs to be recognised in any regional plan.”

The grants are vital for supporting regional extension programs continuing their education and communication work outside of individual orchards.

Image courtesy of Bronwyn Koll

“The State’s grant funds are invaluable, they help deliver QFF education and action in off-farm situations, places where the fruit grower has no control,” Bronwyn said.

“A key action in our regional extension programs involve encouraging councils and government bodies to volunteer and take responsibility for areas of QFF prevention that growers and residents cannot, such as feral fruit plants along roadsides or in council areas. Blackberries and plums are a serious concern.”

Effective fruit fly management relies on understanding the life cycle of the fruit fly and being prepared to deploy those tools and strategies on an area-wide basis at the right time. This includes monitoring programs, protein baiting at the crucial stages when juvenile fruit flies emerge from the earth, and MAT (Male Annihilation Techniques) to destroy males before they breed.

Bronwyn’s message to orchardists is not to relax and become complacent about orchard sanitation and fruit fly prevention.

“Parts of Victoria will start with a high QFF population next Spring because of the population evident at the end of last season,” Bronwyn said.

“Be vigilant, have a strong protein baiting program starting in the Spring, and share fruit fly monitoring information with neighbours and other growers.”

 

Hear more from Bronwyn Koll at the upcoming APAL Forum 2021 – Grow Beyond, in our Day 2 tech, innovation and research presentations.

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