Rust wins berry battle

THE BATTLE to eradicate blueberry rust from Tasmania has been abandoned with the disease now classed as endemic to the state. After multiple detections of blueberry rust in Tasmania last season, Biosecurity Tasmania initiated a technical review of the current containment approach for blueberry rust.

It has since decided to deregulate the disease in Tasmania.

“In 2017 Biosecurity Tasmania and Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture plant experts deemed that blueberry rust was not eradicable in Tasmania,” a Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania spokesperson said. “The containment plan was implemented to slow or delay the spread of the disease to allow Tasmania’s blueberry industry to adjust.”

Fruit Growers Tasmania chief executive Peter Cornish said Biosecurity Tasmania had valiantly fought the spread of the disease alongside farmers and industry members. “They have fought incredibly hard for a number of years and given it a red hot go,” Mr Cornish said. “Especially considering the favourable spreading conditions the disease has had. “Unfortunately the scales have shifted with containment plan costs. “The negatives are beginning to outweigh the positives.”

The classification will mean Tasmania’s organic blueberry growers will now no longer have access to the South Australian market, which requires disease-free produce. “An unfortunate outcome is our organic growers will be completely shut out of that market,” Mr Cornish said. “The costs of a management plan for organic growers were very significant as they had no option to treat rust if they were to have it in their orchard.”

Mr Cornish said though the change was difficult to swallow, the decision would be a net benefit for Tasmanian growers. “Given the spread of the disease and the change in market access that the rust has caused the costs were going to cause more harm than good to fruit growers.