Fruit growers situated within Tasmania’s control zones were looking forward to the end of the fruit fly incursion and returning to business as usual.
However, a change to the grower support package has them wondering if they will lose their businesses altogether after missing out on a second summer of trade.
The Tasmanian government announced it would now provide “transitional assistance” to growers in the control zones until Pest Free Area status is reinstated, which is expected by January 9.
This assistance covers packaging, fumigation treatment and associated transport and labour costs, but not all costs associated with the state’s fruit fly incursion.
Anthony Brandsema produces tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, capsicums and eggplant at Turners Beach, some of which cannot be fumigated and so cannot be sold.
Normally the Brandsemas would be planting eggplants now, but have held off.
“Eggplant, the fruit, does not survive fumigation well at all, and I don’t want to be associated with a product of inferior quality when I present that to our customers. So I have to dump that fruit, which I am not going to get compensation for,” Mr Brandsema said.
“If I toss the eggplants out, the person who would have been looking after my little eggplants won’t be looking after anything.”
The support package had compensated his business up until now, but he said changes to support would affect profitability.
Like the Brandsema’s eggplants, berries grown by Craig Morris at Turners Beach Berry Patch cannot be fumigated.
“We pick very ripe and we’ve selected varieties for taste rather than durability, so we’ve got poor shelf life to start with and if we go through fumigation we’ve got a very inferior product,” Mr Morris said.
Turners Beach Berry Patch usually sold its fruit to a network of Tasmanian retailers, but that had to change once the control zone was established.
“It’s destroyed the wholesale part of our business,” he said.
Spreyton Fresh director Michelle Distill said growers were thankful for the support package, but loss of support before pest-free reinstatement could be dire.
“Any new season early summer fruit (cherries, berries, tomatoes) grown and picked in December will not be able to be sold locally,” she said.
“Some growers have been advised that they will simply have to absorb these losses, which is an impossible financial expectation/burden for growers.”
Spreyton orchardist Brett Squibb said growers were told they would not be financially worse off as a result of the incursion, but that assurance looked set to change.
“People are going to miss out, potentially, on the big share of their local sales, which they rely on to get themselves through the year,” Mr Squibb said.
“We were told there was an open chequebook; maybe that chequebook isn’t as open as we first thought. To have the chance of losing our businesses because of something that was none of our doing is scary.”
Primary Industries Minister Sarah Courtney said $17 million had been allocated to eradicate fruit fly, support growers and strengthen biosecurity.
“We remain confident that Tasmania is on track to be declared free of fruit fly in time for the peak summer fruit harvest period, and we are listening and will continue to work with growers as they prepare their businesses for the upcoming season,” Ms Courtney said.
Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers chief executive Peter Skillern said the state government was right to reassess the package, but growers could still access help.
“The new arrangements will ensure that growers still have access to compensation for fumigation and we understand that these arrangements will remain under review. The TFGA remains committed to sound biosecurity arrangements, including appropriate compensation,” Mr Skillern said.