Growers on high alert for Qfly

Lauren CelenzaCountryman

A “tsunami” of Queensland Fruit Fly (Qfly) that swept across Victorian orchards this season has sparked major concerns for WA growers.

WA has experienced its first outbreak of Qfly in 16 years, after a female with eggs and a male were found in Highgate in February.

In 1995 the outbreak has cost the State Government $200,000 for baiting and surveillance, a far cry from $8.2 million that was spent eradicating the pest from WA in 1989.

The Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) has estimated the Qfly outbreak in Victoria will cost the state’s horticultural industry billions of dollars.

The organisation has urged growers to strip trees and dispose of the fruit properly in a bid to stop the pest.

Fruit Growers Victoria general manager John Wilson believes climatic events may have brought Qflies to Victoria.

“We think Cyclone Yasi may have picked them up and brought them to Victoria. When they got here, it was like a tsunami of flies,” he said.

Mr Wilson said he feared the situation in Victoria could be worse next year.

“While there have been more than 80 outbreaks in Victoria, there have been over 100 in southern New South Wales,” he said.

As few as five male flies or one female fly is considered an outbreak.

Mr Wilson said most ‘stings’, or finds, in Goulburn Valley had been in backyards. However, in Sunraysia, about 400km from Goulburn Valley, about 60 per cent of the outbreaks had been in orchards.

So far, there have been 24 outbreaks in the Sunraysia area.

The outbreaks have already delayed fruit movement during the grape harvest and the DPI says it is planning meetings with citrus growers next week to prepare for their approaching harvest.

Mr Wilson said the task ahead was “enormous”, especially if the flies survived winter.

“It’s far beyond the capabilities of Victorian Department of Primary Industries (DPI) at this stage,” he said.

“Growers need to take ownership and treat for Qfly. It could affect 3 per cent of the stone fruit crop or, in individual cases, it could take entire crops if they don’t do anything about it.

“You just can’t estimate how much it could cost our growers; it would be more than $1 million for all crops. If there are still flies around when fruit is ripening next year, it could be disastrous.”

In the case of the outbreak in Highgate, it is believed imported fruit may have brought the pest to WA.

Since the outbreak, the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) has been on the lookout for Qflies.

DAFWA has increased baiting, trapping and surveillance, including a search by department officers of fruit for larvae in the Highgate area.

Department entomologist Darryl Hardie said the first case of Qfly in WA was reported in Nedlands in 1989.

“The first outbreak was massive, because we didn’t have the trapping grid in place,” Mr Hardie said.

“We didn’t even know it was here until it was fully established and it cost $8.2 million to eradicate it, so early detection is crucial.”

Mr Hardie said the difference between Qfly and Mediterranean fruit fly (Medfly), which is found in WA, was that Medfly was “lazy”.

“Medly will stay in one tree if conditions are right, while Qfly will move larger distances to find a mate,” he said.

“It’s a tropical species but it has adapted and can be found in cooler environments.”

With a year-round buffet of food for the flies along the east coast, Mr Hardie said he did not know if eastern states orchards would ever be able to eradicate the pest.

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