The fruit movement restrictions have been lifted in the Loxton quarantine area following the successful eradication of Queensland fruit fly (Q-fly). But what was the impact on the wine industry?

According to Riverland Fruit Fly coordinator Brett Kennedy, the wine industry successfully managed the restrictions, with loads delivered on time, and no fruit flies detected in wine grapes.

Brett started working on fruit fly prevention in the Riverland shortly before the Loxton outbreak. His role was a joint initiative by the Riverland wine, stone fruit and citrus industries, and PIRSA to appoint an officer to work on fruit fly prevention on the ground in the region.

“Increased pest pressure just over the border in Sunraysia had made growers in the Riverland nervous,” Brett said. “They recognised an increased focus on education and prevention was required to address this. The coordinator also helps manage any outbreak should it occur.”

Brett started his role, which is jointly funded by the State Government and industry, on 9 September 2018. The Loxton Queensland fruit fly (Q-fly) outbreak was confirmed on 7 December 2018. A 1.5km outbreak area and a 15km suspension area were established around the Q-fly detection.

For the wine industry, due to the State’s Area Freedom Status for Fruit Fly, the outbreak meant changes to movement conditions for grapes over vintage 2019, depending on the location of the vineyard and receiving winery in relation to the outbreak and suspension areas.

The main change was the requirement for growers to have ICA-33 accreditation and or wineries receiving grapes to have IVCA CA-01 accreditation. Increased international scrutiny of Australia’s fruit fly status and management systems meant the need for careful and timely implementation of these measures was greater than ever.

There was also a greater focus on preventing spillage of grapes during loading and transportation, by not filling each grape bin or truck any closer than 200mm of the top lip.

All loads were traced and checked for the correct documentation at both ends, and for any spills. Spill kits were supplied to wineries to help control any winegrape spills.

“It was the first time some growers in this region had needed to apply for certification and think about the way they move their grapes, but overall, feedback from growers is that this wasn’t a big imposition on them,” Brett said.

“All fruit got to where it needed to go and when it needed to get there. No loads were unduly delayed or prevented from being delivered as a direct result of the requirements imposed due to the outbreak.

“And some wineries organised the ICA-33 accreditations for their growers, so that helped to keep vintage running smoothly, while we coordinated the fruit fly response.”

The Loxton area quarantine restrictions were lifted on 30 April due to the successful eradication of Q-fly.

Restrictions still apply for bringing fresh fruit and vegetables into the Riverland Fruit Fly Exclusion Zone from either interstate or within South Australia.

“And, of course, there is zero tolerance for people caught doing the wrong thing either at the Yamba Quarantine Station or at random roadblocks. If caught with fruit, travellers face fines and penalties of up to $100,000,” Brett said.

As of 15 May, a total of 928 expiation notices have been issued since the introduction of the State Government’s zero tolerance crack down at random roadblocks from 21 December 2018 and at the Yamba Quarantine Station from 4 January 2019.

Brett said the one benefit of an outbreak was harnessing the learnings that come with it. “Now that we’ve dealt with this outbreak, we better understand what the impacts on the wine industry will be if it does happen again – and I think the wine industry will be well prepared,” he said. “But the plan is to not have another outbreak.”

Brett’s job is to investigate pathways for fruit fly to get into the Riverland and to work with growers, industry bodies and other states to prevent an outbreak.

“One of the big issues we discovered during the eradication response was backyard fruit growers and abandoned orchards,” Brett said. “So we’re working with councils to ensure residents know about picking up any dropped fruit off the ground and to dispose of it.

“There is also the issue of secondary host material, including declared weeds such as prickly pear, so to tackle that we’re working with NRM on host control. We’re also working with employment groups to ensure seasonal workers know what not to do, and what to look out for by embedding this information into induction procedures.

“Pest prevention requires a lot of boots on the ground educating growers, allied industries and residents.”

As well as the on-ground measures, PIRSA is releasing sterile insect technology (SIT) flies and male annihilation technique baiting in an interstate buffer zone to protect the Riverland Pest Free Area. Sterile male flies are released to mate with any wild female fruit flies, which helps eliminate the population.

“The good news is that there is appetite at all government levels and across industry to work on biosecurity and ensure South Australia remains fruit fly free,” Brett said.

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