A RECENT article (Sunraysia Daily, Saturday, January 6, 2018) seems to explicitly blame all the continuing fruit fly troubles squarely at the feet of backyard fruit trees and called for their removal.
Sunraysia and District Table Grape Growers Association president John Argiro claimed “99 per cent of the trouble is coming from backyards”.
I think it’s safe to say Mr Argiro may have been guilty of a little hyperbole with this statement, but in the interests of having a constructive discussion, let’s set that statement aside for now.
Instead let’s thank Mr Argiro for prompting a community discussion on how to best overcome the fruit fly epidemic and restore the region’s previously held fruit fly free status as a community.
It seems to me that two main steps are required to allow for the eradication of this pest.
The first stage would involve the re-implementation of a monitored fruit fly quarantine zone.
It’s clear the trust placed in locals and visitors alike to discard fruit before entering the region has been misplaced.
This is an essential first step so as not to undermine eradication efforts within the region itself.
The second and most difficult stage is the eradication of the fruit fly left within a fruit growing region as large as Sunraysia.
Backyard fruit trees do represent a problem when it comes to the eradication of the pest although 99 per cent would seem like a significant exaggeration.
According to the most recent census data, Mildura had a total of 1798 dwellings.
Assuming every dwelling has five fruit trees, that would give us about 9000 – a number that is undoubtedly inflated.
On the other hand, an acre of table grapes has 500 vines, meaning just 18 acres of table grapes would represent the same number of trees or vines as backyard fruit trees.
Sunraysia has many thousands of acres of vines, along with citrus and other fruit crops.
Another significant difference between backyard fruit growers and commercial fruit growers is in their cultural practices.
While commercial growers do spray their fruit with pesticides as part of their pest management programs, when picking is close withholding periods need to be observed for consumer safety, so commercial growers stop spraying pesticides.
This means there is ripe and even some overripe or rotten fruit on the vines, which would allow fruit fly to lay their eggs.
When picked table grapes growers discard substandard, soft or rotten fruit on the ground instead of sealing it in a plastic bag and placing it in the sun or freezer as is recommended.
Given the enormous numbers of vines within the region, it’s these types of cultural practices that are significantly more likely to contribute to the fruit fly epidemic than backyard fruit trees.
I point this out not to embarrass Mr Argiro or to lay blame at the feet of any part of our region’s fruit growers, but to instead show the problem that faces the region if we are to ever eradicate fruit fly from Victoria’s food bowl.
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