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Fruit fly beats orchardist

NO OPTION: Bangalow farmer Ray Hick kneels next to his burning fruit trees that he is destroying after the Federal Govt introduced a ban on chemicals to control fruit fly.
NO OPTION: Bangalow farmer Ray Hick kneels next to his burning fruit trees that he is destroying after the Federal Govt introduced a ban on chemicals to control fruit fly. Patrick Gorbunovs

BULLDOZING a 5000-tree peach orchard to turn it into cattle pasture is never a pretty sight, and it's not cheap either.

But after three years fighting a Federal Government limitation on pesticide use, stonefruit grower Ray Hick has run out of options.

He opted to bulldoze the orchard after Fenthion, a pesticide used to control fruit fly, was suspended by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority in October.

The former president of the local stonefruit grower association Low Chill and board member of peak stonefruit body Summerfruits Australia, said Fenthion has no real alternative - and the fruit fly was becoming more and more resilient each season.

"If we didn't spray, we would have infestation in excess of 50-80% through our entire crop," Mr Hick said.

When he took part in a trial of possible Fenthion substitutes with the Queensland Department of Agriculture, it was aborted halfway when one of the three trial farms recorded a 50% infestation.

"There is no natural treatment to keep you safe from fruit fly - it's a very resilient pest," Mr Hick said.

"Many of the WA growers have had enormous fruit fly outbreaks trying to implement the new conditions and lost at least 50% of their crop."

Mr Hick is critical the government banned Fenthion without a corresponding investment in eradicating fruit fly, unlike in the US, where fruit fly has been the target of billions of dollars of successful eradication efforts.

"In my prediction there will be no low chill stonefruit industry by 2014 if the government doesn't change its policy."

He's also critical of the science, arguing there's not enough evidence to show Fenthion has actually caused any illness.

"We'd be dead if this was a seriously dangerous chemical - we live with it all around us."

APVMA Director of Public Affairs Susan Whitbread said the APVMA was "obliged to act" when they identified a health risk that breached the public health standard.


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