Crop threat for Tweed farmers
TWEED taro farmers are being forced out of the industry by cheap imports from China despite complaints some of the imported plants are riddled with disease.
Federal Member for Richmond Justine Elliot hosted a meeting yesterday between Clothiers Creek farmers Leo Burgoyne and Tim Johnson and Shadow Minister Gaven O'Connor to discuss the threat the imports pose.
Mr Johnson and Mr Burgoyne voiced concerns that current quarantine and importing standards and procedures are inadequate to protect local taro plants from being overlooked in favour of Chinese and Fijian imports.
While the lower costs associated with the imported products are a major concern, Mr Johnson said the threat of disease was the primary worry.
Mr Johnson said China has been affected by Taro Leaf Blight disease which poses a real threat to the local industry and had the potential to wipe out others crops, including tomatoes and potatoes, if spread to Australia.
"Taro Leaf Blight is in China and in many of the islands and it was responsible for wiping out the Samoan taro industry in 1994," he said. "They were forced to import taro to feed the people there.
"If the taro they are bringing into the country has this disease, the industry on the Tweed will definitely be suffering in the following years."
Tweed farmers are also concerned the low cost of the imported product is pricing them out of the market.
Local taro production costs range from $18 to $22 per carton. The imported product is wholesaling for similar prices and Tweed farmers are unable compete, prompting some to abandon the industry.
"They are bringing them in and selling them for sometimes less than our production costs," Mr Johnson said.
"Originally there were about 15 to 20 growers growing them but now we're down to about four growers."
Ms Elliot criticised the Howard Government for "bending to trade pressure" and has urged the Government to give quarantine services the power and resources necessary to protect local farmers.