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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Farmers stand against lime import

NORTH Queensland lime growers fear the collapse of their industry in their region as the Federal Government continues with the plan to import limes from Mexico but a Far Northern MP stands firmly against the decision.

Katter’s Australian Party MP Bob Katter said he had little faith the government could seriously control the threat of pests and diseases by allowing the import of Mexican limes, after it recently completed its risk analysis. 

Mr Katter wrote to the Federal Agriculture Minister expressing his concerns over biosecurity issues associated with importing Mexican limes, including the threat of, but not limited to citrus scab, citrus leprosis and Asian citrus psyllid – a vector for the most devastating citrus disease worldwide. 

“These limes I would argue have around 20 different diseases that we don’t have in Australia,” Mr Katter said.

“You believe in the tooth fairy, if you believe we’re not going to get those diseases in Australia.

“We’ve had disease outbreaks that have cost this country hundreds of millions of dollars, because you opened the door.”

Mr Katter also questioned what ethical standards would be considered when permitting the import of these limes, with questions surrounding disparity in wage standards, input costs and whether Australia was even in need of additional supply of limes. 

In his response to Mr Katter, the minister said: “The science is clear that fresh lime fruit from Mexico is not a pathway for establishment of these organisms and does not pose a biosecurity risk.” 

The minister did not respond to questions on the economic impacts of the decision. 

Tablelands grower Karen Muccignat has farmed limes at Mutchilba, west of Mareeba for over 30 years, and has fought against several import proposals over the past six years, including the South Pacific in 2017, before “keeping at bay” a call to ship in Mexican citrus.

“In my submissions (against Mexican limes) I had pointed out a few diseases they’d missed, and we’ve been sending them back to the drawing board,” Ms Muccignat said.

“But they only allow you to speak on pests and diseases, because of trade agreements, you can’t speak on how it will affect your industry – the economic effects.”

Ms Muccignat said North Queensland growers were already at a disadvantage to their southern counterparts, due to the tyranny of distance impacting costs of inputs and transportation. 

“We grow 52 weeks a year, down south, they don’t operate during winter. So that’s when we make up a bit of ground with our costs because during the summer, there’s an oversupply and sometimes we’re hardly breaking even. 

“Mexico has a similar climate to ours, but their inputs would be nothing compared to ours. I wouldn’t be surprised if they can send their fruit here for the same price it costs us to produce.”

She said another element the government had failed to acknowledge was the power of the major supermarkets and their influence over fruit trading agents. 

“For example, the market might be saying a tray of limes is worth $70 or so, but the supermarkets don’t want to pay over $50. That puts the agent under pressure, and then they’ll turn to those Mexican limes to please the retailer. 

“There are more protocols for us to ship to another state, than there are for Mexican limes to come here.

“It really just feels like a war on Australian farming.”

Keep up with the latest news in Cairns and the Far North, and check out some of our top stories this week: Oktoberfest at Hemingway’s Brewery is back and PCYC establishes Cadet Club.

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