Queensland fruit fly strikes twice in 18 months
The detection of a male Queensland fruit fly in a trap in the Parihaka port area of Whangarei on January 21 this year left growers reeling. It's horticulture's worst nightmare – the foot and mouth disease-like horror that growers went through in May 2012 when a Queensland fruit fly was found in a trap at Mt Roskill, Auckland. This year again it's only one fly and as of late January it remained only one fly. However for growers, who see biosecurity – or the failure thereof – as the single biggest risk to their livelihoods and a $2.5 billion industry, one fly is still a terrifying omen. For citrus growers chairman Rick Curtis, of Kerikeri, the event is a double whammy because Psa had just recently arrived in the area. “We're all as nervous as hell.”
“We're constantly told we have a world-class biosecurity system, but there's a gulf between that statement and the practical reality of being reliant on it.
“At least 80% of research and development in the citrus industry is spent on pests that have arrived in the last 10 to 15 years from other countries. It's hard to get ahead and become less chemically reliant as a result. “Biosecurity is the single biggest risk to my business.
“We're all as nervous as hell.”
“The MPI guys on the ground do a fantastic job, it's the level of resourcing government and the community think is enough that's a concern, especially for a country that has an agriculture-based economy. We keep getting breaches of biosecurity, and it's the same biosecurity that is supposed to cover farmers as well as horticulture.”
Kumeu tomato grower and HortNZ board member Tony Ivicevich is taking a wait and see approach. “The export market is worth $2.5 billion and that is put at risk. At the moment it's wait and see if it's a one-off again. “I'm naturally pleased to have a trapping system in place, but disappointed to find they have found something.” Biosecurity is not being taken seriosuly enough, says avocado grower Roger Barber. Avocado Industry Council director and growers association representative, Roger says growers' livelihoods are at stake.
“(It's) very concerning for any grower exporting. Our livelihoods are at stake “The Queensland fruit fly is adapted to more tropical conditions than here, so it is unlikely to be established but we need to be sure.
“It would be unlikely to survive our winter – unlikely but not totally out of the question. We still have to take it seriously in regard to our overseas market entry.
“More of a worry is the Mediterranean fruit fly as it's more suited to our climate.
“I don't believe biosecurity is taken seriously enough, particularly at the airport which focuses on getting tourists through quickly. It's interesting that where fruit flies have been recorded before have been in the corridor between the airport and port of Auckland, so it's no surprise this one was found near the port (in Whangarei).
“Much more scrutiny of tourist luggage is needed.” Tamarillo Growers Association manager Robin Nitschke, of Maungatapere said growers were holding their breath, but there was no need for panic with just one fly found. “Biosecurity is never good enough but I think it has ramped up from what is was, with more personnel and sniffer dogs.
“There is never a nil risk of incursion, and MPI is doing the best it can with limited resources when the job is huge. They have reacted very quickly and appropriately.
“There are two issues with fruit fly – the destruction and damage to crops so they are not saleable, and the damage to international markets and our reputation. “It will be some time before we hear the all clear. As tamarillos are a winter fruit it probably won't affect us. But we are holding our breath at this stage and will have to wait and see. It shows how vulnerable our whole industry is though.” Persimmon Industry Council chairman Duane Wells, of Kawi, was happy with MPI's response.
“Trapping in place is the first line of defence. We have a very good front line and this has stopped fruit fly from colonising. On the fruit fly side the trapping scheme is working. “Biosecurity New Zealand has done a good job with what they are currently doing, and MPI with its trapping and swift response. It's the fourth find in the last 20 years and none has been able to create a colony.
“The 1996 incursion meant we had to take additional measures to get through the exclusion zone, but nothing that interfered with our markets. It's not going to be life as usual for people in and around Whangarei as this will disrupt the normal flow for the next couple of weeks. “So far I am happy with the response by MPI, and I don't think we could have had a faster response than we have had. I hope it's a solitary find and their intensified tracking system over the next few weeks is going to prove that.” HortNZ board member and kiwifruit grower Dave Kelly said growers were nervous.
“Any biosecurity system if an incursion gets through clearly isn't good enough. The potential economic impact on Northland is huge. The industry employs 1,360 people and it's an important gateway to employment for a lot of people.
“On the positive side, it's one fly in one trap.
“Growers are nervously awaiting the outcome and seek the support of the community especially if it moves on to eradication as well. “It's very early days and fortunately there has been a good level of planning and preparedness with workshops and scenario planning round this.
“We want this dealt with swiftly and with the kiwifruit season coming up want to be able to ship out of the port of Whangarei, but if the exclusion zone remains we won't be able to which will mean extra cost.”