WESTERN Australian table grape growers are steeling themselves for a fight against the importation of Californian grapes.
The federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) has released a draft non-regulated analysis of existing policy for Californian table grapes to Western Australia.
The draft report proposes that the importation of table grapes from California be permitted into Western Australia, subject to a range of quarantine conditions.
It follows a 2005 application from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to extend market access for fresh table grapes from California to include Western Australia.
California has exported fresh table grapes to all Australian states and territories except WA since 2002.
The analysis suggests that the quarantine measures used for the rest of Australia be transferred to Western Australia.
It’s a suggestion that has not been well received by Table Grapes WA (TGWA).
TGWA chair Roger Fahl said the organisation planned to oppose the proposal because of the risk of diseases entering the State which it does not have.
“It’s hard enough as it is without having these diseases to deal with,” he said.
But there is a last line of defence for WA growers and an extra hurdle for the Federal Government.
Western Australian State Legislation in the form of the Plant Diseases Act 1914 effectively prohibits entry into the state of grape fruit, seed and plant material from all sources.
Machinery previously used in the growing or processing of grapes is also prohibited unless it satisfies quarantine requirements that include heat treatment and washing.
This is due to the absence of grape phylloxera (Daktulosphaira vitifoliae), grapevine fanleaf virus and phomopsis cane and leaf spot (Phomopsis viticola) in that state.
The DAFF analysis says that the risk grapevine fanleaf virus “will arrive in Western Australia with the importation of table grapes from California is: HIGH”.
It then goes on to say: “The likelihood that grapevine fanleaf virus will enter Western Australia as a result of trade in table grapes from California, be distributed in a viable state to a susceptible host, establish in Western Australia and subsequently spread within Western Australia is: VERY LOW.”
DAFF puts the likelihood that Phomopsis viticola will arrive in Western Australia with the importation of table grapes from California as “low”, with the probability of distribution as “very low”.
The plot thickens further however in favour of DAFF.
In 2011 the Western Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) announced the formal commencement of a pest risk analysis considering the importation of fresh table grapes into Western Australia.
That process is still underway.
Mr Fahl said that if the Federal DAFF were to be successful in allowing California grape imports, they would need to overrule the State legislation.
He said the multi-million dollar Swan Valley wine industry would also be in jeopardy if a disease outbreak occurred.
“Western Australian experiences one of the wettest Springs of any grape growing region in the world, making pest control even more difficult,” Mr Fahl said.
He pointed to the devastation the PSA disease has had on the kiwifruit industry in New Zealand, as an example of bureaucrats not acknowledging the risks involved with disease management.
The export season to Australia for Californian grapes has been from June to November (with one exceptional year where consignments were also shipped in December).
Australia currently imports fresh grapes from the United States, Chile, New Zealand, China and Korea.
Stakeholders have until May 9 to submit comments on the analysis.