Article by: Hari Yellina
As a result of a fruit fly outbreak in South Australia’s Riverland, some small growers have been shut off from their city clients. It comes as state budget papers reveal that funding for the pest’s eradication has been reduced from $33 million last year to $13 million this year. When the Department of Primary Industries and Regions SA announced an outbreak in his area, David Setchell, a grower from Loxton, said he had just started collecting his jujubes. “They were advising that we dehydrate our entire harvest,” he added. “It wasn’t really a possibility for us because we didn’t have the equipment to accomplish that and there are no commercial drying facilities in the Riverland.”
“So that first piece of advice came as a bit of a shock.” Mr Setchell said the specialised fruit was in high demand locally from Chinese wholesalers. “Our customers in Adelaide were rather alarmed when we told them we wouldn’t be able to serve them,” he added. “It was already a late harvest, so they were very interested, we sent a few boxes down, and then we contacted them and told them that was it for the season.” He stated that they were dissatisfied. “Obviously, they could still get jujubes from the east coast,” he explained, “but we had to explain to them that the fruit would have been fumigated, which put them off a little.”
After scrambling to locate a buyer, Mr Setchell was able to market his fruit through a distributor in Sydney. However, he said that the move came at a cost to his family’s business, as well as increased competition. Mr Setchell explained, “We pretty much had to rejig our entire plan around packing and selection.” “We also lost our more personal interaction with our consumers, leaving us vulnerable to issues such as fruit fraud.” Fruit fly restrictions, according to Christine Robertson, executive officer of the Adelaide Showground Farmers’ Market, have curtailed the supply of products to consumers, notably stone fruit. She noted that the absence of certain farmers had been felt severely, and that there had been a surge in interest in shopping locally as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“It’s a huge blow to [consumers] when one of the primary motivations for coming to the market is taken away from them,” Ms Robertson said. However, she stated that preserving the remaining growers against fruit fly was the highest priority. “What you’ve got is a responsibility on the part of farmers and producers to do the right thing because it may have a negative influence on another farmer’s business,” Ms Robertson explained. Fruit fly eradication money has been cut in the budget, according to Primary Industries Minister Clare Scriven, because the insect has been eradicated in Adelaide and Port Augusta. According to Ms Scriven, cash was set aside in response to fresh occurrences. The $13 million would go toward baiting, the introduction of sterile fruit flies, and public education, she said. “In terms of giving funding when it becomes necessary, we’re following the same approach as the previous Liberal government,” she added. In the Riverland, there are presently 11 outbreaks with limitations in effect until December 22.