AUSTRALIA: Watermelon grower devastated by virus has long road to recovery

by Lara Webster, ABC


A North Queensland watermelon farmer whose farm was hit hard by a devastating virus may finally be able to plant a crop on his farm next year.


In May, biosecurity Queensland confirmed the case of Cucumber Green Mottle Mosaic in Jon Caleo’s 40-hectare melon crop and he had to destroy $1 million worth of fruit.


The Charters Towers grower has been harvesting pumpkins for the time being but he had recently received news that he may be able to begin planting watermelons again in January 2016.


At this stage Mr Caleo has principal approval from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries but has yet to hear from Biosecurity Queensland in regards to the final approval.


If the grower did receive the final approval he would be restricted to growing the melons in paddocks he has not harvested in five years.


“Where the infected melons were, we have grown sorghum and we’ve planted pineapples as well on some of that ground; anything that’s not a vector for the virus,” he said.


“All we do is constantly 2-4-D the block so there’s nothing there that will hold the virus.”


While the possibility of growing melons again may be of some relief to Mr Caleo, he still had concerns.


Very strict protocols would be put in place, should he be allowed to plant the melons next year.


Machinery would need to be sterilised and left with the crop until harvesting was finished.


Once harvested the fruit would be taken to the gate and put on trucks to be taken back to the packing shed.


“The emphasis is on us to keep our clean ground clean and keep the virus out of where we’re going to grow,” he said.


As for the financial recovery from the biosecurity outbreak, Mr Caleo said that was still a long way off.


The revenue from the 300-tonne pumpkin crop he harvested was only a drop in the recovery of his losses.


“We’ve probably marketed $200,000 worth of pumpkins bur we’ve also lost and have been unable to grow about $1.5 million in melons,” he said.


“We’re just going to have to keep farming to hopefully make it up slowly over a period of years.”


Source: ABC

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