Citrus canker has officially been eradicated from Australia, three years after the plant disease was discovered in the Northern Territory.
- Australia is now free of citrus canker, improving export opportunities
- The disease was first found in the NT in April 2018
- 6,000 citrus plants were destroyed in efforts to eradicate the disease
The bacterial disease causes brown spots to form on citrus fruit, leaves to drop and unripe fruit to fall on the ground, and is easily spread by infected fruit and leaves.
Citrus canker was found in Darwin in April 2018, 14 years after Australia’s last citrus canker outbreak destroyed 500,000 citrus trees near Emerald in Queensland.
The effort to eradicate citrus canker from the NT involved the destruction of over 6,000 plants, and millions of dollars in costs to the citrus and nursery industries, with a national ban placed on NT citrus products.
NT Chief Plant Health Officer Anne Walters said the eradication of the disease from the Top End was a win for citrus growers across Australia.
“[The eradication] is really critical because Australia being able to say we are free of citrus canker means that, nationally, all of our growers can demand a more premium price for our product because we don’t have this disease,” Dr Walters said.
Dr Walters said the early detection of citrus canker was a big help to eradication efforts.
“Outside of where the disease was first detected, we only found about 16 properties that were infected, so it was quite small,” she said.
Investigations by the NT government were not able to confirm how citrus canker got into the country.
Many of the citrus plants destroyed during the citrus canker eradication program were from suburban Darwin properties.
Citrus Australia chief executive Nathan Hancock said the local community’s support of the eradication program was essential to its success.
“This is a fantastic outcome for the citrus industry, due in no small part to the commitment from the NT government, compliance by local citrus businesses including nurseries and farms and most importantly the support of the community,” he said.
‘Looking forward to this for years’
Han Shiong Siah, a citrus grower in Darwin’s rural area, said he had been looking forward to this announcement for the last three years.
While his property was not infected with the disease, his business had to comply with strict biosecurity requirements.
“Then on top of that, we had to treat our fruit in chlorine, as well as having our fruit inspected prior to packing and dispatching to other states and territories.”
NT citrus growers will be able to send fruit interstate without any paperwork, as soon as other jurisdictions recognise the successful eradication and remove relevant biosecurity protocols.