A MEETING between Riverina citrus growers and Member for Murrumbidgee Adrian Piccoli will be held in Griffith today following last month’s fallout over the Department of Primary Industries’ (DPI) decision to cut funding for fruit fly management in the region.
A profitable US export market for Riverina citrus growers is under threat following the decision, say growers, who want an appropriate solution to the issue.
A spokesman for Mr Piccoli, also the NSW Deputy Leader of The Nationals, confirmed he would be attending the forum in Griffith, as would industry stakeholders.
This follows a meeting held in mid September, when the DPI met with the Riverina Biosecurity Committee to lay out a new management approach for fruit fly.
The NSW DPI director of plant biosecurity Satendra Kumar said this new approach had come about as the previous Fruit Fly Exclusion Zone management had come to a point where it was no longer technically feasible, nor could it be financially justified.
He said the NSW DPI and Riverina Biosecurity Committee were developing a range of measures to help growers transition to the new arrangement.
“While this change brings significant benefits for the fruit industry, it is acknowledged deregulation will also have drawbacks.”
Those drawbacks are severe, according to Bart and Sue Brighenti, Sumar Produce, at Lake Wyangan, north of Griffith.
Mrs Brighenti, who is also on the NSW Farmers Biosecurity Committee, said if the DPI pulled out of their code of practice requirements for fruit fly management, local growers would “lose the American market” as the US wouldn’t accept citrus affected by fruit fly.
“That will have a knock-on effect because the US market represents about a third of our export market for the area,” she said.
Mrs Brighenti said fruit would then have to go into another market, and that would in turn depress the local market and would put pressure on other export markets.
The announcement the DPI would cut fruit fly funding in early September was abrupt as there was no suitable transition period, she said.
Mrs Brighenti’s son Bart – the president of the newly formed Riverina Citrus Growers Incorporated – said during a recent meeting of the group at Yanco the DPI had underplayed the importance of the US market.
“The department never consulted with industry on the importance of the market,” Mr Brighenti said.
“It has no idea of the knock on effects on all the other markets – yet they’ve decided to pull out.
“Then it decided after pulling out it would renegotiate the protocol – the department clearly has no understanding of the time taken to do this.”