Citrus trees have to go

Citrus trees in Katherine's Cossack region have to be removed.
Citrus trees in Katherine's Cossack region have to be removed.

The worst fears of Top End people owning citrus plants have come true with an order for their destruction.

Residents who live in a citrus canker restricted area have recently been contacted regarding the removal of their citrus plants to work towards eradication of the plant pest.

Residents have been instructed to remove of citrus plants and plant materials, including fruit, leaves and pots from restricted areas, starting with the Katherine (Cossack) region and Darwin.

Residents living within the restricted area should not move plants or plant material as this may spread the citrus canker disease. The removal will be undertaken by authorised inspectors in accordance with required quarantine disposal processes.

Citrus crops include: limes, lemon, citron, mandarin, orange and grapefruit.

Removal efforts will begin on a small scale basis with priority residents within the restricted area tasked first.

The NT has a long history of plant diseases with banana freckle detected in the Top End in 2013 which also led to a long eradication campaign.

Citrus canker was first confirmed on a Cossack property in June this year.

Although the specific Katherine restricted area covered a defined area in Cossack a wider control area was also established over the whole Katherine Local Government Area, from which citrus plants cannot be removed.

The ordered removal of plants will be from 21 properties in the Cossack region, and not the Katherine municipality as a whole, although it remains part of the control area. 

Canker was found on a six hectare Cossack property which was home to four citrus plants, with only one showing serious symptoms of the disease.

The infected plant was bought from a Katherine nursery, which sourced their citrus plants from a supplier in Darwin.

Northern Territory executive director Biosecurity and Animal Welfare Sarah Corcoran thanked the public for their assistance in the response to date and said those in the restricted areas would have now received letters in regards to the removal of plants and materials.

“The community has been extremely cooperative and we really appreciate the efforts people have gone to in reporting citrus plants,” she said.

Since the response began in April 2018 a total of 10 restricted areas have been declared where plants infected with citrus canker have been detected.

These restricted areas are Katherine, Darwin Airport, Howard Springs, Humpty Doo, Lambells Lagoon, Marrakai, Moulden, Palmerston, Woolner and Wulagi.

Ms Corcoran said while the removal phase of the response was commencing, surveillance work would continue to progress.

 “Surveillance and engagement of more than 2000 premises located with the restricted areas has taken place,” Ms Corcoran said.

 “We will continue to work with property owners and citrus plant owners throughout this removal stage. 

“To allow citrus trade across Australia and internationally the Northern Territory must demonstrate it is free from citrus canker. To eradicate citrus canker and reach the goal of recommencing trade we need to remove all citrus plants and plant material within a 600 metre radius of infected properties.

“Restricted areas are established to manage the potential natural spread from any infected plants.  The 600 meter radius is based on scientific evidence available from previous outbreaks in Australia and overseas.

“Residents living within the restricted areas continue to be advised to not remove the plant or plant materials as this may spread the disease. Removal will be undertaken by authorised inspectors in accordance with required quarantine disposal processes.

“Biosecurity is everybody’s responsibility and we need to work together to help eradicate this disease. Territorians can help the citrus canker response by checking any existing citrus plants for signs of the disease, as well as reporting any citrus plants purchased since August 2016 so they can be checked for signs of infection. Early detection helps towards eradication.

“For those Territorians residing within a restricted area, your continued cooperation with the surveillance and removal of citrus plants and materials is greatly appreciated.” 

Citrus canker does not affect human health or animals, and infected fruit remains safe to be consumed. 

For more information visit www.nt.gov.au/citruscanker, contact the hotline on 1800 931 722 or email citruscanker@nt.gov.au

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