'It kills trees': virus threat gives cherry growers little to smile about

BE VIGILANT: Orchardist Peter West wants all nurseries in Australia to test their trees for the Little Cherry Virus 2. Photo: STEVE GOSCH 0622sgberries2

BE VIGILANT: Orchardist Peter West wants all nurseries in Australia to test their trees for the Little Cherry Virus 2. Photo: STEVE GOSCH 0622sgberries2

ORCHARDISTS say the Little Cherry Virus 2 could spell the end of the local cherry industry if tough biosecurity measures are not introduced to stop the virus spreading throughout mainland Australia.

Little Cherry Virus 2 was confirmed on 12 Tasmanian properties earlier this year, and subsequent tracing and surveillance has detected the virus in Victoria.

NSW Cherry Growers Association member Guy Gaeta said if the virus did make its way to the central west, it would decimate the cherry industry.

“It kills trees, eventually, but for about 10 years the cherries only grow a little bit bigger than a pea and they taste sour,” he said.

“We don’t want it here.”

Mr Gaeta wants all plant material from Tasmania quarantined until it has been tested for the virus.

“It feels like we’ve been sold out by the bureaucrats because there’s no quarantine,” he said.

“We will get it [the virus] within the next five years.

Mr Gaeta said the virus was transferred via plant roots and lived in the sap of cherry trees.

Orchardist Peter West said while only one case of the virus had been detected in mainland Australia, it was difficult to claim it had not spread further until widespread testing was conducted in spring.

“If we were to have the virus in Orange we’d have to eliminate the affected trees. There’s a possibility we may be able to catch it,” he said.

“But what we have to do is ask all nurseries to make sure their trees are virus-tested.”

The Department of Primary Industries (DPI) recently hosted a workshop about the virus.

DPI plant biosecurity manager Dr Kathy Gott said NSW produced about 4000 tonnes of cherries every year, so arming producers with the knowledge they needed to manage the threat of the virus was essential.

“Little Cherry Virus 2 is a virus that affects the overall health of a cherry tree and causes fruit that is smaller and lacking in flavour,” she said.

“These symptoms may be easily overlooked as waterlogging or general poor performance of the tree.

“As the virus is spread by the movement of propagation material such as root stock or cuttings, it is highly likely that the virus has been present in Australia for more than 35 years.”

Dr Gott said there were no food safety risks for consumers eating or handling cherries and the virus could not be spread by the movement of cherries.

She said cherry growers in NSW should report any signs of unusual pests or diseases in their trees to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881.

tracey.prisk@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop