Western Australia’s Department of Primary Industries (DPIRD) has confirmed the detection of citrus canker on two properties in Kununurra and Wyndham, linking it to imported plants from the Northern Territory.
It comes as Queensland producers and exporters have called for the NT citrus trade to be halted until a pest quarantine area is declared and all plants within it are destroyed.
In a statement on Thursday, DPIRD said the infected plants and other at-risk citrus plants on the WA properties have been removed and destroyed to minimise the risk of the disease spreading.
The plant disease citrus canker has been confirmed on six properties in the Northern Territory, including one commercial production nursery and two retail outlets, which have now had all of their citrus material destroyed.
The other three NT properties are owned by people with citrus plants in their backyard who contacted authorities.
An outbreak of the virulent disease in 2004 saw millions of trees in central Queensland bulldozed and burned.
Canker outbreak response ‘not handled well’
Grower Craig Pressler lost a significant portion of his orchard in that outbreak and said without decisive action the outcome could have been worse.
“They’ve adopted this 600-metre cookie cutter approach around the six infected properties, I believe, however that has never been proved to be successful anywhere it was implemented,” he said.
The recent discovery of citrus canker disease among a handful of plants in Darwin prompted all states and territories to impose a temporary ban on all citrus produced in the Northern Territory.
While the Northern Territory’s chief plant health officer, Sarah Corcoran, said the outbreak was still classed as a “very low-level infection”, Mr Pressler believed management of the outbreak so far had not been good enough.
“I think that it’s not being handled very well,” Mr Pressler said.
He said some trees would need to be destroyed in the Northern Territory and if action was not taken soon, the industry would face a bigger hit.
“I’ve got grave concerns about where this is heading,” Mr Pressler said.
“At risk is the national crop … it could spread to other areas, spread to Kununurra.”
Protection of larger orchards
Mr Pressler’s concerns have been backed by Joe Saina from the Australian Horticultural Exporters’ Association.
Mr Saina said action needed to be taken to protect the country’s larger growing areas.
“I’m going to be brutally honest here and say Northern Territory isn’t known as a major citrus growing area or an export area,” he said.
“The major areas are in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and some parts of Queensland — those areas must be protected at all costs.
“I’m sorry to say for those producers in the Northern Territory that until we have an absolute clearance of citrus canker being identified during surveillance exercises by the department, we are going to have to maintain a ban of those goods going interstate.
“You’ve got to remain tough on border protection we’re going to suffer more of these things.
Biosecurity Queensland’s Principal Policy Officer for Incident Response and Preparedness, Rebecca Sapuppo, said she appreciated the concerns of Queensland growers.
“Citrus canker is a very serious disease of citrus production internationally, which is why we did mount that eradication program when it was detected in Queensland,” she said.
Ms Sapuppo said there were several aspects to the response in the Northern Territory that were different to the response that was run in Queensland.
“The movement control measures that Queensland has implemented echo the level of concern that we have about the serious threat that the disease presents to the Queensland citrus industry, which is why we acted quickly to put those movement controls in,” she said.
She said the Northern Territory still had a way to go in its response.
“The conversation earlier in the week in the Northern Territory was very much around their response strategy … I think at this early stage in the response, we very much need to focus on designing a response or an eradication strategy that is technically appropriate.
“The Northern Territory is being supported by some of the best citrus pathologists nationally, in their decision-making and support from the Queensland experience and other officers across the country that have a vested interest in making sure that they succeed in containing and hopefully eradicating the disease.
“We need to only allow [the resumption of trade for NT growers] to happen under the circumstances where we can have absolute confidence that that movement does not present an exacerbated risk for Queensland and other states and territories.” she said.