Uncertain times for fruit growers

SPRAY BAN: Mark Napper hopes to negotiate the restricted application rate of Fenthion.
SPRAY BAN: Mark Napper hopes to negotiate the restricted application rate of Fenthion. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

STONE fruit growers on the Northern Rivers are among a number of farmers who face an uncertain future with the latest instructions regarding the limited use of its most effective pesticide against Queensland fruit fly.

On October 31 the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) suspended and restricted the use of Fenthion, an insecticide used in horticulture, on crops across Australia.

This is our last season and come January we will start bulldozing the orchards.

Bangalow stone fruit grower Mark Napper said the results of such a move would be severe across the local industry.

"(Fenthion's) major use is to control fruit fly and there is no real alternative," he said.

"The industry is spending a lot of money to find a viable alternative and we are confident we will find one, it's just a matter of when."

Mr Napper said despite the new instructions on Fenthion, they will be able to get through this year's season.

He said next year did not look as promising.

"Trials have been happening using cover sprays but by themselves these don't work," he said.

"We have a meeting with Horticulture Australia in Sydney in three weeks to discuss the issue."

Mr Napper is also hoping to work with APVMA to negotiate the restricted application rate of Fenthion.

"Currently it is a 21-day withholding period which is too long for us," he said.

"We want the period to be less than that, which means we need to find an application rate that is suitable to them and us.

"But we may not find that for another six to 12 months."

Other stone fruit growers aren't waiting for the next season with Ray and Fay Hick, of Bangalow, making the decision to bulldoze their farm.

"We will no longer be stone fruit growers," Mrs Hick said.

"This is our last season and come January we will start bulldozing the orchards."

The APVMA said the announcement follows the release of the 2012 Fenthion Residues and Dietary Risk Assessment Report in September which found that use of Fenthion on many crops could possibly exceed the recommended public health standard.

"When a regulator makes a finding relating to the potential health risks to the population, the community expects that immediate action is taken," Pesticides Program manager Dr Raj Bhula said.

"We understand that some user industries may find it difficult to adjust to the restricted uses of this chemical, which is why we have been consulting broadly with these groups."

The APVMA received over 70 submissions in response to the proposed suspension and publication.

The new use instructions will be in place for 12 months while the environment and OHS components of the review are completed.

Mr Napper said farmers weren't the only ones affected by the decision of the APVMA.

"This is also important for the community as it affects the people we employ, the local mechanic, the transporters and even House With No Steps where we send our products," he said.

Crops affected


 Citrus (grapefruits, lemons, limes, mandarins, oranges)

 Home gardens

 Persimmons (edible peel)

 Stone fruit

 Tomatoes (pre and post harvest)

Topics:  fenthion fruit growers horticulture

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