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Victoria on brink of horticultural crises

Victoria’s horticultural industry is at crises point as growers brace for an onslaught that has the potential to decimate the industry.

Harvest labour shortages have had a crippling impact on stone fruit growers across the state with market ready fruit left to rot on the tree due to a lack of pickers. The emerging emergency has fuelled concerns about a spike in fruit fly, with weather conditions provided by the La Niña weather event and a wet summer ideal for increased fruit fly activity.

Growers and industry groups are dismayed that the recent announcement by the Victorian Government to bring Pacific Island workers to Victoria in an attempt to address the shortage has not been in time for the state’s stone fruit and pear harvest.

Fruit fly

The inability to get fruit off trees comes at a huge financial cost to growers and presents an escalating fruit fly risk to an already at risk region, with concerns existing about increased Queensland fruit fly (Qfly) activity fuelled by optimum weather conditions for fruit fly expansion.

Growers have joined with industry groups to voice their concern. Cobram and District Fruit Growers Association President, Tony Siciliano said fruit fly pressure was mounting across the region and had been exasperated by harvest labour shortages whereby fruit has been left to rot on the tree.

“With not enough labour to pick this year’s fruit most of it will end up on the ground. If you combine this with the impact of the La Niña weather pattern, which could last anywhere between one and eight years, the likely result is that a Qfly Tsunami will be heading our way,” Mr Siciliano said.

Emergency situation

“This crisis is developing into an emergency and we need to act swiftly and decisively because if Qfly is detected in any of our exports, particularly to China, it will be regarded as an exotic fruit fly incursion and we all know what will happen to our exports,” Mr Siciliano said.

“The Goulburn Valley is the largest pear producer in the Southern Hemisphere and the Murray Valley is Australia’s largest stone fruit producer. Qfly is one of the world’s worst fruit pests and is a major threat to our exports,” Mr Siciliano said.

The Federal Government announced last week it would contribute $6.5 million toward the Strengthening Australia’s Fruit Fly System Research Program, with state and territories matching this funding, bringing the allocation to $13 million. While this funding allocation is a windfall for research, the allocation does not include provision for ‘boots on the ground’ Area Wide Management of Qfly in the Goulburn Murray Valley.

The compounding effects triggered by the inability to pick fruit is not only costing growers in lost market revenue but is further fuelling an already heighted fruit fly threat, as a result of La Niña. Industry groups and political representatives have echoed concerns.

Photo: Fruits falling from trees as picker shortage bites (Source: Shepparton News).

Acknowledgement: this article was reproduced from a media release by Hort Daily.