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Riverland producers face financial hit from Christmas fruit fly outbreak

There are fears an outbreak of Queensland fruit fly in South Australia could be devastating for the horticulture industry, with some growers unable to move stone fruit during their harvest period.

Fruit fly larvae were found in a backyard apricot tree in Renmark West on Tuesday, leading to Primary Industries Minister David Basham declaring an outbreak yesterday.

A 15-kilometre exclusion zone that includes Berri, Yamba, Renmark, Paringa, Monash and Calperum Station has been set up around the site.

Varying levels of restrictions apply to the movement of fruit inside the zone, with growers encouraged not to move any product off their properties until the scale of the problem can be better judged.

A smaller 1.5km outbreak area covering Renmark, Renmark West, Renmark South and Crescent has also been declared.

SA is the only mainland state with fruit fly-free status and there is a longstanding ban in place on interstate visitors bringing fresh fruit and fruiting vegetables into the state, as well as intrastate travellers bringing fruit into the Riverland region.

'It only takes one'

Riverland growers are in the peak of stone fruit season and are expecting a bumper crop while they battle to cope with the labour shortage brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

SA's horticulture industry is worth $1.3 billion and the Riverland is the state's biggest fruit-producing region.

Summerfruit SA chair Jason Size said yesterday's outbreak could be a major financial blow for producers.

"For some growers it could mean the end of their business, in terms of finding it really hard to move product," he said.

"So it can be very serious from that point of view and the ramification from that is unemployment.

"It's disappointing, but at the end of the day it only takes one fruit, it only takes one fly, for this to occur."

He added the proximity of the outbreak to the Renmark township was particularly concerning to the industry.

"This is the first time in a long time, if ever, that it's been in the Renmark township, so it's going to be very challenging going forward because growers are going into unknown territory," he said.

"There are a lot more households, there are a lot more people confined in that sort of area — so it makes it more challenging, but not impossible."

Eradication measures underway

The State Government is gauging whether the outbreak has spread to other properties.

The active outbreak and exclusion zones are expected to stay in place until at least March 15, although this could be extended if more wild flies or larvae are discovered.

Mr Basham said Department of Primary Industries and Regions (PIRSA) staff would be stationed throughout the region to instruct growers on how to deal with the outbreak.

"We have a zero-tolerance approach at the border, but I guess there's the chance that at times people can sneak fruit through without it being detected," he said.

"We totally oppose people doing so — it does put a $1.3 billion industry at risk, so we need to make sure people do the right thing and don't bring food into the region."

On Monday, prior to the outbreak, Mr Basham told ABC Riverland the state was well-equipped to deal with an increased fruit fly risk from interstate, due to cool and wet conditions being conducive to the pest's breeding.

Growers under quarantine rules

Growers are being encouraged not to move fruit off their property, to clean their property of all ripe fruit and are advised not to keep backyard fruit trees unless they are being actively maintained.

PIRSA will be providing green waste management throughout the quarantine area, with locals asked to not compost fruit.

"There are fruit product restrictions, so the reality is you [growers] need to be looking for advice from their industry contact or from Biosecurity SA," Mr Size said.

"It's happened, we have to deal with it and we have to make sure the message is heard loud and clear that fruit fly can destroy communities and growers' livelihoods."

Photo: These apricots will be destroyes (source: ABC News).

Acknowledgement: this article was reproduced from a media release by ABC News.