Fruit fly restrictions lifted in Tasmania but markets yet to recognise status
At 12:01am on Wednesday, strict biosecurity controls around the north of the state were lifted, 12 months after fruit flies were detected in the island state.
The control zones restricted the movement of fresh fruit from some of Tasmania's prime horticultural production areas, unless it had been treated with methyl bromide or been kept in cold storage for weeks.
The shutdown affected export markets and caused huge financial losses.
"It's the end of that process where we've had controls to protect the rest of the state's fruit fly-free status," Assistant Minister for Agriculture senator Richard Colbeck said.
"The next stage of the process is to work with our trading partners to recognise fruit fly-free status for the whole of the state." Until last year's incursions, Tasmania was the only state in Australia to be completely free of the pest, making it easier to gain market access to lucrative export regions with strict biosecurity protocols.
Tasmanian fruit exporters have built businesses with the island's pest-free status as a competitive edge.
Until trading partners recognise that Tasmania is again fruit fly free, those markets will remain mostly closed, and the competitive edge lost.
Senator Colbeck said it was unclear how long that process would take.
"My sense is that will start to happen progressively based on the various countries and the protocols those countries have in place," he said.
"In some circumstances it might be quite quick, in some countries it might just be a letter. Some of them may want to come here and do an audit to check that information."
Already Indonesia, a modest but growing export destination for Tasmanian cherries, has signalled it will not be ready to consider the fruit fly-free status until February.
"Indonesia have indicated to us they recognise we are coming to the end of this period," he said.
"They've said that they have a window available for us at the end of January for us to present our data to them."
It is approaching peak season for Tasmanian cherries which represent the lion's share of the state's fruit exports.
In 2016-17, $32 million of fruit was exported, with $29 million of that from cherries alone.
Orchardist Shane Weeks grows 130 tonnes of the valuable red fruit, with 70 pickers about to start the main harvest from the end of this week.
"Our main worry is with cherries," he said.
"Will we be able to export our cherries this season?"
Mr Weeks said he was hopeful trading partners would quickly recognise Tasmania's confirmation of fruit fly-free status.
"It would open it right up to us to export to China and Taiwan so we won't be restricted any more," he said.
'Wake up call' for growers
Mr Weeks said the past 12 months had been a learning experience for the industry.
"It's been a bit of a wakeup call for everyone, we thought it wouldn't happen in Tasmania and it has," he said.
"We've got to be more vigilant and keep and eye out and make sure it doesn't happen again."
As the clock ticked down to midnight, growers were looking forward to celebrating but remained apprehensive.
"We've got to take every day as it comes. Every day without fruit fly is a good day," Mr Weeks said.
Growers who primarily sell within the state were also counting down the hours until the restrictions lifted.
It means they resume sending their fruit to the major population centres of Hobart, Launceston and Burnie.
Turners Beach grower Craig Morris, who is right in the middle of the control zone, said the restrictions had wiped out his wholesale business.
He was kept afloat by a retail restaurant and cafe on the farm.
"It's been massive. It's been the biggest single issue we've had since we started," Mr Morris said.
"We are really pleased to finally be coming to the end of this saga."
Like many growers in the area, Mr Morris was cautious when planning this season.
He has planted fewer crops in case the pest re-emerged and again restricted his ability to sell produce.
Source: ABC News