By Manika Dadson
Warren Viney and Michelle Distill worry that no cherries will be sold locally. (ABC News: Manika Dadson)
Tasmanians will be unable to purchase cherries prior to Christmas from any growers within the fruit fly control zone, unless biosecurity restrictions are relaxed.
Fruit growers within the control zone — which stretches from Stony Head in the state’s north to Ulverstone in the north-west — have had to abide by strict quarantine restrictions since the fruit fly outbreak in January.
Most cherry growers were not impacted previously, as the incursion hit at the end of their season, but they fear the upcoming season may now be “wiped out” because of the pest.
The only way fruit from within the zone can be sold is if it is fumigated or has gone through a 16-day cold storage process.
Warren Viney, who is one of the north-west’s biggest cherry growers, said he won’t “ruin” his Spreyton Fresh cherry crop by fumigating it, and cherries won’t last through cold storage, so unless biosecurity measures are relaxed his cherries will be off the market.
“There will be no pre-Christmas sales,” he said.
“People will come down the driveway and as it stands now, we won’t be able to sell anyone any cherries at all.”
Nearby cherry grower Shane Weeks said pre-Christmas cherry sales are lucrative to those on the north-west coast.
“All that fruit on the tree, we don’t know what’s going to happen to that now,” Mr Weeks said.
“We’ve still got to crop that fruit, spray it and maintain the trees and do all that, but we can’t sell it locally.
“The only way we can do it is with fumigation, which is methyl bromide and cherries won’t handle methyl bromide.
“We’re letting down customers, it is potentially going to take employment away from the local area, so it is a really bad situation.”
The number of cherry-picking jobs in the region may also be affected if restrictions remain in place.
While the bulk of Tasmania’s export cherries are grown outside the fruit fly control zone in the state’s south, most of the early pre-Christmas cherries are grown right in the middle of it.
The State Government will cut its compensation payments for affected growers who need to toss out their fruit or sell it at a reduced price from September 28, as it works towards the state regaining its fruit fly-free status from January 9.
Michelle Distill, who works with Mr Viney at Spreyton Fresh, said it seems “silly” to cut the assistance package four months out from restrictions being lifted.
“The way it looks at the minute if they do stop the assistance package at the end of September in the next two or three weeks, we need to make a really hard decision as to whether we even do anything with this year’s crop of cherries,” she said.
Many north-west cherry growers are now calling on the State Government to ease its biosecurity restrictions, so those living within the control zone can buy cherries locally, as long as they are not taking them out of the control zone.
The department won’t allow the produce to be sold locally because “it’s very hard to control where it might end up”. (kamila turton: www.sxc.hu)
A Department of Primary Industries spokesperson said the purpose of preventing the sale of untreated host produce within the control area was to protect growers and the fruit industry by reducing the risk of fruit fly spreading.
“Once host produce is sold, it is very hard to control where it might end up,” the spokesman said.
“This restriction supports eradication activities by reducing the potential for there to be numerous infested properties requiring control actions.”
The Cherry Shed at Latrobe is in the control zone, but the business would not comment on how the situation would affect it.
No fruit fly have been seen in the state since April.
Fruit growers meet with Federal Agriculture Minister Daniel Littleproud. (ABC News: Manika Dadson)