Virus confirmation cripples 'gutted' Katherine melon farmers

KATHERINE watermelon growers are reeling in the wake of the announcement they will not be able to plant a crop for two years following the confirmation of cucumber green mottle mosaic virus in the region.

The Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries officially confirmed on Monday that the virus had been detected in watermelon crops around Katherine as farm inspections continue in other Northern Territory growing areas, including Darwin, Mataranka, Douglas Daly and Ti Tree.

CGMMV has been declared a notifiable pest under the Plant Health Act 2008.

The watermelon industry is worth $60 million to the NT economy and, while the two-year growing ban will have a major financial impact on local growers, DPIF incident controller Peter Stacey said it was required to ensure the virus did not spread.

“[The two-year ban is] based on the best advice we have nationally and internationally, but we’ll look at a range of control measures to hopefully shorten that and get the farmers back on their feet as soon as possible,” he said.

“So far, we have seven properties that either confirmed as being infected or suspected as being infected, but we also have ongoing analysis to be conducted.

“At the moment, it is relatively localised.”

Growers whose properties have tested positive for the virus have been instructed to use herbicide on their crops before pushing them into a hole, burning and then burying them.

One Katherine grower impacted by the virus spoke on the condition of anonymity and told the Katherine Times they were more concerned about the stigma of receiving a positive test than the financial impact it would ultimately have.

“I’m gutted,” they said.

"Melons are a big part of our bottom line, so we naturally have to find a way to fill that for the next two years, or until the growing ban is lifted.

“If we can’t plug the [financial] gap, we’re going to struggle, for sure, but we’re in a better position than others.

“I’m more worried about what the flow-on effects will be for Territory melons, now and down the track.

“After speaking to growers and people in other parts of the country, it feels like there’s already a bit of a dark cloud over all of us up here.”

DEVASTATING IMPACT: Watermelon growers in the Katherine region have been banned from producing a crop for the next two years following an outbreak of cucumber green mottle mosaic virus.

DEVASTATING IMPACT: Watermelon growers in the Katherine region have been banned from producing a crop for the next two years following an outbreak of cucumber green mottle mosaic virus.

NT Farmers chief executive officer Grant Fenton, who said last month the virus would be a “game changer” for the industry, threw his support behind producers whose properties had been quarantined.

“The first thing to do is try to rally around those growers who are impacted and try to work out what support we can offer,” he said.

“There’s nothing good out of this story, to be honest.”

Primary Industry and Fisheries Minister Willem Westra van Holthe said it was “a bit early to speculate on exactly what compensation will be available” for impacted growers, adding that the potential stigmatisation of NT produce was an issue.

“Clearly, we’d prefer to never have had this come into the Northern Territory,” he said.

“We are aiming to protect the remainder of the properties that are not affected.

“The stigmatisation of the broader industry up here is of concern, but, by taking very swift and strong measures to manage this incursion, it is our intention to make sure that the Territory’s reputation of a grower of clean and healthy crops is maintained.”

The blue areas indicate parts of the Katherine region that have been declared quarantine zones following the outbreak of CGMMV.

The blue areas indicate parts of the Katherine region that have been declared quarantine zones following the outbreak of CGMMV.

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