Dr Shelley Johnson, a quarantine entomologist, says the deciduous fruit industry’s export market is based on sound phytosanitary principles — monitoring in particular. By Dane McDonald.
Johnson, a Hortgro and Stellenbosch University researcher, says the ideal way to manage phytosanitary risk is to manage everything, based on growers’ target export markets. But she holds a special place in the toolkit for proper monitoring.
“This is an issue with quite a few of our markets — they want information on our monitoring systems and the monitoring data. We need to provide proof when we say a pest doesn’t occur on a particular crop in South Africa.”
It is a matter of showing not only telling, according to Johnson. Growers need data to show that a particular pest is not present. “You can’t just say your crops are pest-free and have everyone accept it — monitoring is key, and it’s not done as well as it should,” she says.
Bone of contention
Despite her residence in the university ivory tower, Johnson keeps in touch with growers and says monitoring remains a point of contention with some growers. Johnson advises growers to participate transparently in monitoring practices, as it is to the benefit of the industry’s future practices and historical data capturing.
The work being done in the Unites States by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Division is a good example of how Integrated Pest Management (IPM) works. Their online resources promote IPM programmes for a variety of crops and a major component of all IPM programmes is monitoring and assessing pest numbers and damage.
Johnson urges growers to learn from the recent false codling moth (FCM) issues. New European Union (EU) regulations came into effect in 2017 to prevent the entry of FCM into the EU via stone fruit imports from several countries including South Africa.
Johnson says it would be a step in the right direction if growers moved from a situation where they have to participate in monitoring due to a push by regulatory bodies like the International Plant Protection Convention and the EU to a position where it’s done proactively across the board.
There are benefits to documenting monitoring data that go beyond just the requirements for international trade. She says the Peach and Nectarine FCM Management System, and PhytClean Database are proud achievements for the industry in managing FCM.
Accessing export markets
Hortgro’s Trade and Market Access manager, Lindi Benić, says growers sticking to phytosanitary principles is critically important, since it affects exports and imports. Benić was at the coalface when the FCM announcement hit SA; in fact, she saw it coming.
“The phytosanitary aspects of the fruit growing business are critical market access drivers,” she states. “It’s related to accessing new export markets, and drives activities related to increasing market maintenance challenges.”
Benić says that the fruit industry should proactively execute market-access-related research to maintain priority export markets. “Phytosanitary mitigation measures and systems need proper application, and must be established to keep up with changing requirements regarding market concerns.”
While the struggle continues for growers to apply phytosanitary principles, which includes adequate monitoring, the industry’s achievements with FCM shows what can done when growers act as a collective.