WORRIED: Mark Napper at his farm in Bangalow.
WORRIED: Mark Napper at his farm in Bangalow. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

Growers battle pesticide ban

THE LOCAL stonefruit industry is again battling the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority over their ban on the fruit fly pesticide, fenthion.

On October 16, the APVMA tightened existing restrictions introduced last year to a complete ban on the use of fenthion with peaches, to be enforced from April 30 next year.

President of Low Chill Australia Mark Napper said the timeline was unrealistic and might force the already pressured industry into permanent decline.

Some stonefruit growers have already left the industry while others have cut back their production.

With the fruit fly endemic on the Northern Rivers - it can wipe out entire crops if allowed to breed - Mr Napper said growers needed at least two years to pilot a viable long-term substitute to the pesticide.

Low Chill Australia is lobbying federal Agricultural Minister Barnaby Joyce over the economic damage that could flow from the total ban.

"If other industries get time to transition to new arrangements, why can't we?" he asked, likening it to a small-scale example of the fossil fuel power industry shifting to renewables.

"We're not asking for a handout, we're just asking for time.

"In 50 or 60 years which fenthion has been used, there's been no direct link between fenthion and harm to a human from eating fruit."

Enrolling the wider community in placing traps and baits for fruit flies in their own gardens and orchards was one innovative suggestion which might help solve the problem, he said.

"That way we can achieve both the aims of reduced chemicals and still have an Australian stonefruit industry."

The local industry has just completed its harvest season for 2013, which starts in early October and usually lasts six to eight weeks.

Mr Napper said while crop sizes were down due to consistent wet weather in the first half of the year, the sunny dry period from late winter made the fruit sweet and juicy, and prices were up.

But with Northern Rivers growers are now forced to compete against the burgeoning US import market - as the early harvest period overlaps with the tail end of the US season - the ultimate APVMA decision could make or break the local industry.