Pest fear for orchardists over imports

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

Stone-fruit growers have warned of a major biosecurity threat as peaches from the US go on sale in WA for the first time.

The growers said the peaches they expect in the WA market from today and planned imports of nectarines had the potential to introduce a highly destructive fruit fly.

The Federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry opened the door on July 18 for the imports after holding up approval for three years because of concerns about the presence in the US of the Asian fruit fly drosophila suzukii.

Eight consignments have arrived in Australia after the US agreed to extra safeguards against the pest, which cost strawberry growers in California about $300 million in 2008, the year it was found there.

After the Federal approval, the Department of Agriculture and Food WA cleared the way for imports on the basis that quarantine measures included methyl bromide fumigation.

The US imports will mean consumers in WA can eat peaches and nectarines during winter when they are out of season for local growers.

Hills Orchard Improvement Group spokesman Brett DelSimone said stone-fruit growers feared the worst if suzukii fly got a foothold.

The industry is fighting Mediterranean fruit fly, or medfly, which destroyed up to 50 per cent of crops in the Perth Hills last season and is a serious pest in the South West.

Mr DelSimone said the suzukii fly had the potential to make medfly look like a minor problem.

"It is far more aggressive and reproduces more quickly, which is why we are so worried," he said.

Local grape growers have collected samples of Californian table grapes for independent testing.

The grapes were on sale in WA for the first time last week despite industry fears about pests and diseases, including fungal pathogen phomopis viticola, which growers fear could devastate vineyards.

Table Grapes WA president Roger Fahl said grapes appeared to be "breaking down" in some cases.

"We expected nothing less on this fruit because many of us go to the US every other year and see the production practices," he said.

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