Growers want strict protocols

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MORNINGTON Peninsula orchardists are calling for tighter controls on apples imported from New Zealand, saying if fireblight were to take hold in Australia their orchards could be wiped out in a few years.

Third-generation orchardist Mark Paganoni, who runs Atlanta Fruits in Moorooduc and is a board member of Fruit Growers Victoria, said the industry was not arguing against free trade.

But he said there were concerns that, when an import ban was lifted next month, infection protocols were not rigorous enough to prevent the spread of fireblight from New Zealand apples.

Australia is one of about five countries not infected with fireblight, a bacterium that affects apples, pears and other trees in the rosaceae family. It also affects ornamental species like Manchurian pear, and crops such as raspberries, quinces and loquats.

“We did have very good protocols, but the Australian government has backed down on those protocols and are talking about all checks being made by New Zealand growers in New Zealand,” Mr Paganoni said.

“It’s not that we don’t trust our neighbours, but the protocols for New Zealand, which has fireblight, are much weaker than those for apples imported from China, which doesn’t have fireblight.”

Mr Paganoni said New Zealand orchardists refused to reveal details of orchard practices, which made it difficult for the Australian industry to make informed comment on the required quarantine and infection measures.

He said fireblight could quickly spread from a diseased apple.

“The flow on to other trees would be significant, particularly pears – they hardly grow a pear in New Zealand because of fireblight – and the nursery industry would suffer greatly.”

The only effective treatment for fireblight is an antibiotic, streptomycin, currently not registered for use in Australia.

“We’d have to have streptomycin available, but do we really want to be spraying our apples with antibiotics?”

Mr Paganoni said FGV would “keep pressure on the federal government”, which was expected to announce protocols mid-August.

Red Hill orchardist Neville Mock, a fourth-generation apple grower, said he was concerned given his status as a biodynamic grower did not allow him to use antibiotic sprays.

“If there was an outbreak, it would be terrible for us and it would jeopardise our biodynamic and organic status.”

Mr Mock said fireblight presented the same threat to the orchard industry as foot and mouth did to dairy and beef industries.

source:   peninsulaweekly.com.au

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