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6th June 2018

Canker Update 5th June

5 June 2018

Dear Grower

As I have reported earlier, in April this year the NT government confirmed the discovery of citrus trees with the disease citrus canker. The trees were found in two retail outlets in suburbs of Darwin. Evidence available to date indicates that those initial infected trees and all subsequent confirmed infected trees are restricted to pot plants in the home and garden sector from a single source.

Australia has eradicated citrus canker seven times in the past 100 years. The last case was in 2004 when canker was found and eradicated from orchards in Emerald, Queensland.

The current outbreak is different to the Emerald outbreak in that the nursery system is spreading the canker to residential properties – to date no citrus canker has been found on commercial orchards. Using sales data from the nurseries the NT government is tracing as many sales as they can to find potentially infected plants.

Tracing of plant sales continues and to date apart from the linked plants in Kununurra no canker has been detected outside of the Northern Territory. Whilst the number of infected properties and infected trees remains low the overall number of uninfected host plants trees destroyed to-date in the response is in the thousands.

All infected properties and suspect properties are subject to strict quarantine measures. Infected properties have all canker hosts removed and destroyed. No citrus material linked to infected properties or on suspected properties can be traded under quarantine regulations which commenced immediately following notification of the suspect detection in April this year.

Citrus Australia is a signatory to the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed (the deed). This assures growers that governments and industry will share decision making and the cost of eradicating the outbreak of a plant pest.

Emergency containment actions and the response plan developed by the NT government enabled activity to begin as quickly as possible, to delimit the size of the outbreak, to design protocols to allow businesses to begin trade as quickly as possible whilst managing the risk and to develop the best and most efficient strategy to eradicate canker once the size of the outbreak was known.

The discovery of citrus canker in Kununurra through tracing of sales data from infected premises in the NT has triggered a review of the agreed response plan. The review is an assessment of the plan to determine it is fit for purpose across both jurisdictions and to adjust the budget of the plan.

A further detection of an infected pot plant on a peri urban Katherine property has again changed the situation and prompted further discussion about the eradication plan – evidence is mounting that a full eradication should begin as soon as possible. The age of this new infection is older than previous discoveries and has widened the timeline which the infection was present in the nursery system which further increases the number of trees that have been sold that possibly have canker.

There is evidence that in the revised time frame a large number of citrus trees that MAY have been infected have been sold into other states. This investigation is ongoing and to date no further suspect properties have been identified.

To my knowledge there is NO evidence sales have been to the major growing regions of WA, the Riverland, the Murray Valley, the Riverina, the Burnett or Central Highlands.

According to the deed citrus canker is a category 2 emergency plant pest. This means that government and industry share the cost of the response 80:20. The commonwealth underwrites the response and ultimately contributes 40%. The next 40% is shared by state and territory governments based on their local value of production. The final 20% is shared by the affected industries; in this case the citrus industry and the nursery industry, based on their local value of production. In this outbreak the citrus industry will pay the lion’s share of industries contribution.

There are growers in the NT and northern WA who have begun to lose income due to the restriction of movement of citrus plant material. The deed allows for owner reimbursement costs (ORC) for losses incurred as a result of the response plan. Harvest should have commenced for these growers and they are rightly concerned. We are working with government to expedite these processes as quickly as possible. Each review of the response plan impacts the timing of ORC and I am mindful of this as we work forward.

A grower reference group has been formed to advise the industries position and to drive the response to the best possible outcome – eradication of citrus canker from Australia. Growers are welcome to contact myself or the chair Ben Cant to make their concerns known.

Information on citrus canker can be found on our website at http://www.citrusaustralia.com.au 

Yours Faithfully,

Nathan Hancock.

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