Apple growers fear "FMD of horticulture"

15 Jun, 2010 04:53 AM
Apples in Orange... third-generation apple orchardist Michael Cunial from Carinya, Orange. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Apples in Orange... third-generation apple orchardist Michael Cunial from Carinya, Orange. Photo: Edwina Pickles

IT IS known as the foot-and-mouth disease of horticulture and, at its worst, can leave an apple or pear orchard looking like a bushfire has ripped through it.

But for more than 90 years, Australia has worked to keep fire blight from its borders. That could change when the World Trade Organisation releases its long-awaited decision on New Zealand's plea to overturn a ban on apple exports to Australia.

There is speculation the WTO will find in New Zealand's favour, striking fear into the hearts of local apple and pear growers, already reeling from a Biosecurity Australia risk assessment that could result in Chinese apples on supermarket shelves by Christmas.

''[Fire blight] has spread to 49 countries and it has never been eradicated once it's established,'' said John Corboy, Apple and Pear Australia fire blight taskforce chairman. ''It's the foot-and-mouth of horticulture [and] it's very climatically sensitive. Australian conditions for fire blight are much worse than New Zealand's. We have a much warmer climate and fire blight just loves warmer climates.''

The task force estimated the apple industry could lose $1 billion in seven years should apples infected with the bacteria reach Australian shores.

Mr Corboy described the appearance of an infected orchard as devastating: ''It looks like a bushfire's been through,'' he said. ''It literally kills the limbs and the leaves and all the foliage on the tree to the point that the tree can't survive.''

Australia's apple industry is worth about $700 million a year, while pears are worth about $350 million, he said.

One grower, Peter Darley, who runs an apple orchard at Nashdale, near Orange, said growers were already struggling with an oversupply of apples on the domestic market last year.

''The prices are about 20 per cent down on last year's,'' he said. And, because Australia was free from fire blight, it had no licensed treatment for it, such as streptomycin, which is used in affected countries.

''We have no control for fire blight,'' said Mr Darley, who is also the NSW Farmers Association horticulture committee chairman. ''It's putting the orchard industry under extreme threat. It's putting our clean, green image as an island continent at risk.''

The industry expects the federal government to appeal the WTO decision should it fall in New Zealand's favour. The federal government has received the confidential WTO report but is not expected to release it until next month.

Growers are also lobbying Canberra to tighten quarantine measures after they lost an appeal last week against a biosecurity ruling that paves the way for apples from China to enter Australia.

''Unless something is done, we'll see Chinese apples here by Christmas,'' Mr Corboy said. ''We're totally under siege.''

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15/06/2010 7:45:35 AM

Don't worry about a thing, our govt will look after us like it did when it got ACCC to investigate price gouging off producers and consumers by our supermarket chains - so orchadists you're in safe hands. What a joke.
Bushie Bill
15/06/2010 11:07:50 AM

The so-called "failure" of the supermarkets inquiry you are talking about, to the extent it was a "failure", was entirely due to the laziness and incompetence of the agricultural lobby group responsible for presenting meaningful and intelligent data for consideration. The complainants simply wanted to send a few whingeing emails, submit a few anecdotal stories and expect someone else to do all the work on its behalf. No wonder it failed.
15/06/2010 12:51:07 PM

Bushie Bill, you're obviously not a producer. It's easy to sling mud when you're doing it from a safe position.
Brad Bellinger
16/06/2010 5:05:20 AM

The ABA gave evidence against the Supermarkets at the ACC inquiry and will continue to expose the false avidence put forward by the supermarkets in relation to what they pay for cattle and the cost of the distribution of beef to the consumer.Australian beef producers recieve 27% of the consumer dollar the developed world average is 40%.I invite you to Casino on the 25th of June Bushie Bill and you will hear first hand the incompetence of Graham Samuels to do a proper investigation into the power of the supermarket duopoly. Supermarkets are charging Australians $4000 ton for apples what are they paying farmers investigate the price differential Samuels and do your job properly start earning the gong you recently recieved.If the WTO allows apples in get into gear Coalition and go against the ruling and protect farmers.
Bushie Bill
16/06/2010 5:56:32 AM

Shaun, I may or may not be a whole range of things, but whatever I am, it has no bearing on my comment. Perhaps you may wish to address the content of my post? For me or anyone else to make a comment which you do not like is not "to sling mud" as you so quaintly claim.
16/06/2010 6:30:28 AM

You'll find shaun that BB's comment makes no case for or against the "price gouging off producers and consumers by our supermarket chains". Purely that there was incompetence by the people making the submission. Having said that, big chains are easy targets. My local fruit barn sells product cheaper than the chains. I guess they must be gouging even moreso than the chains hey. Like BB said, takes harder work to prove than complainents were decided to put in.
16/06/2010 8:02:48 AM

If scary stories about fire blight can't keep out the filthy foreigners, I'm sure someone will think of something else that's equally scary. The last thing we want is cheap apples coming in.
16/06/2010 9:44:40 AM

Brad, did you actually read the ABA submission and the ACCC report? All your points are addressed: different spreads in beef prices are due to overseas agricultural subsidies, and there is a detailed case study of apple prices. The ABA submission is a barely coherent general rant about Japan, grading, NLIS and pork, studded by a few random numbers. There is much dark talk about the supermarket duopsony blighting the market, never mind the fact that they handle just 12% of beef produced in Australia while 65% is exported - some market power. Out of the nine issues ABA want addressed, NOT ONE pertains to the alleged duopsony. em.phtml?itemId=813748&nodeId=d88 ecdcd4d3c24233ac11b2d91c501c9&fn= 146%20(late%2019%20Mar)%20-%20Aus tralian%20Beef%20Association%20(1 3%20pages).pdf em.phtml?itemId=838251&nodeId=682 10597d8c50ef39932cafa725a0469&fn= Grocery%20inquiry%20report,%20cha pters%2011%E2%80%9320.pdf
Brad Bellinger
16/06/2010 8:07:33 PM

What an idiotic statement morrgo. The domestic market is our biggest and Coles and Woolworths handle 50% of domestic beef sales - Woolworths 30 and Coles 20. You must not have read it or if you did you obviously did not understand it. I asked a very simple question to the MLA at their last AGM: HOW MUCH MONEY DID YOU GIVE TO THE SUPERMARKETS LAST YEAR? The MLA of course refused to answer - I wonder why?
17/06/2010 5:59:28 AM

Brad, your ignorant half-cocked statements are a case study why farmers' complaints are not taken seriously in this country. Halving the self-righteousness and doubling the self-education would be advisable. The domestic market is NOT the beef industry's biggest. If you do not like the sources I have presented and find ABS or ABARE reports too difficult reading, just look at this kids' summary on the DFAT website: overview.html
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