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Consideration and Noting - Government Administration Committee B - Blueberry Rust in Tasmania - Repo

[3.29 p.m.]

Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Madam Deputy President, I, too, support the recommendations and the noting of the report. I thank the Chair and other members of the committee, the committee secretary and the other staff for their assistance. It was certainly an interesting committee. Originally, I thought, 'What am I going to learn about blueberry rust?' It did not seem it would be enthralling, but I learned a lot about blueberry rust. I learned a lot about biosecurity, and what was and not happening in the state. On the weekend - and I will not say where - I was looking to buy a blueberry plant and I must admit I started examining the leaves to see if I could see any spores.

Ms Rattray - The interesting part is that it is not easy to locate on the plant, if you recall.

Ms ARMITAGE - I did but I found myself looking. It was something I would never have done before. I automatically started looking at the plants and the leaves and in the end I decided not to buy one because I was not sure and I thought I would leave well enough alone.

Going to some of our recommendations, as has been said, the first recommendation is -

1. Biosecurity Tasmania should aim for eradication of blueberry rust in Tasmania.

That message kept coming back again and again from evidence that we heard, particularly from the organic growers. Their blueberries will not be sold if they spray. They cannot spray; they have to have eradication.

It was interesting when we were speaking with different people giving evidence how different things came across depending on who they were. Some of the growers were very stringent when it came to hygiene and pickers who came to their properties, so much so that you had to leave your boots and your clothes outside, everything had to be washed and nothing could come onto the property. You could not take a picker from New South Wales because it was particularly rampant up there.

Yet a couple of other growers did not worry too much at all. They seemed to say, 'It does not really matter, spores can come on cars on the ship'. They did not seem to have the same concern some of the organic growers had, and that was something we found when it came to the evergreen and the deciduous varieties of blueberry. I will read a small section from page 49 of the report. Tony Waites of Woodlea Nursery, Springfield, Tasmania made the following statement regarding eradication by means of defoliation at the hearing of 22 January 2018 -

Ms Rattray - I am glad you are reading that out, I had that ear tagged but did not read it out so well done.

Ms ARMITAGE - He said -

There is a grey area between containment and eradication. You are trying to suppress active rust spores in both cases but in eradication you are saying you are trying to get rid of it completely. In containment you are saying it is too hard to get rid of it completely, let's try to minimise it. That component is common to both of them. If you look at why it is difficult to get rid of the rust spores there are a couple of things.

One is that some growers in the state grow evergreen blueberries and that supplies host material for the rust to grow on all year round. When you see that, dealing with those trees has to be a high priority. There is a number of ways. You can rip out those evergreen plants but I do not think anyone is suggesting you do that. Another option is, as I am sure you have discussed, the issue with defoliation. My interpretation of the fairly scant evidence and study information suggests controlling with defoliation is, at the very least, going to assist in containment. You are going to have less of a problem with blueberry rust after you do it and hopefully, based on the results of Rosalie Daniel, there would be a hope the rust is killed completely. If you can defoliate the plants within the four to eight weeks there would be every hope you would kill the outbreak.

The use of evergreen production systems at Costa was raised during hearings with Mr David Bardon, horticultural manager at Costa Group. The Chair said -

We have covered it but I raise it again. It has been put to us that Tasmania should not allow evergreen plants into the state. We should be simply deciduous because it protects against disease in that they drop their leaf, the climate is cold during the winters and therefore it kills off the rust, the spores and so on. It is a natural predator of disease. What would you say to that position, that we should not entertain the evergreen variety?

The response from Mr Bardon -

The evergreen variety we are talking about gives us an advantage. It is a great variety, a good producing variety that offers good cross-pollination for a number of other varieties. Yes, I would be concerned. I would like to see that continue. There has been significant work in breeding programs, particularly for our customers. I would say that with disease, disease can hang onto non-senescent leaves. It is not to say that because they go deciduous in winter are not going to have the disease. That is well documented. I am more concerned about growers that don't spray than growers that do spray, particularly when it comes to disease and outbreaks.

As it has been mentioned, it is very difficult for organic growers to spray. That is one of the things that Tasmania had, listening to a variety of people who came and gave evidence: the Tasmanian brand. In some cases the cost of the organic berries was double because it was such a good product; as mentioned by other members, it is all around the world.

Mr Dean - A premium product at premium price.

Ms ARMITAGE - An absolutely premium product. For those people, it was their lives and their livelihoods. We did a couple of site visits. For them to have to lose all their berries and even to spray once, to get accreditation back was next to impossible. It was an issue.

The other issue was the spores. We were told a variety of different things by people. Some people said that the spores will not travel from one property to the next. Then we had evidence saying that a spore could travel from here to New Zealand. Whom do you believe? At the time, they all believed what they were saying, but how do we know what is accurate and what is not accurate? That is really difficult. I have two little blueberry plants in my garden that came from a good registered grower who gave evidence. They still have not produced any berries, so it must be me.

Madam DEPUTY PRESIDENT - It is not the right season; give them time.

Ms ARMITAGE - They have been there a couple of seasons now. They are still very small.

Mr Farrell - They might be like lemon trees.

Ms ARMITAGE - I do not have trouble with the lemon tree; I have four sons.

Going back to the blueberries, the concern is that if the spores do travel, if I were to get blueberry rust, first, would I know because who looks at their garden very often? It could cause many problems for other blueberry growers. I think it is something the average person with some blueberry plants in their garden is not aware of. Until I was part of the committee, I would not have been aware of it either. That is very important. It probably goes back to the resources mentioned by other members and the fact that the department needs to be adequately resourced. It is all right to resource it. When we had the fruit fly problem, all of a sudden resources came from everywhere to make sure that it was eradicated. I do not believe the department has thrown as many resources at blueberry rust as it threw at things like fruit fly.

To people who are involved in the blueberry industry, and it is many more than we realised, it is just as important. I believe there should be adequate resourcing.

Most of the areas have been covered by members, and I am not going to go on and repeat what has already been said. I agree with the recommendations. It was a very enlightening and informative committee. I hope that most of the recommendations are taken up. If extra resources are required, they need to be provided because it is such an important area.

I do not know how we can overcome some of the issues to do with pickers from certain areas and hygiene on certain properties, which realistically comes down to the individual growers and whether they decide to tighten what they have. If you are not an organic grower, you do not have the same impulse to do it. You are not as concerned because you can spray. That is a real issue for organic growers. It is certainly a lot more difficult for the organic growers. To have both in the community - deciduous, evergreen, some people who are more concerned with hygiene on their property and where pickers come from, and others who are not as concerned because they are not organic growers - certainly makes it difficult for the department because you are not playing with the same deck and you are trying to compare apples and pears. It is a different situation. I feel for the organic growers because they are at a disadvantage when there are two different markets out there. I do not know how we can overcome that and I do not think the department can overcome it. The only thing we can do is to aim for eradication, but whether they are supported by the non-organic growers in aiming for eradication is another matter.

I support the report.

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