Queens­land fruit fly strikes twice in 18 months

The Orchardist - - Contents - By Sue Milne & Sue Grant-mackie

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.”

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