A BAN on further manufacturing of the “workhorse” pesticide, endosulfan, has left the horticulture industry suddenly struggling to find a replacement product to control several challenging insect pests.
Some cotton growers may also be caught short by the Federal Government decision to phase out five commercial spray products containing endosulfan as they face a potential big
season for sap sucking insects across this summer’s much-expanded cotton plantings in NSW and Queensland.
A major industry initiative by the avocado, macadamia, custard apple and lychee sectors is this week set to begin exploring a range of alternative sprays and management strategies to assist producers phase out endosulfan use.
But the $180 million a year national avocado industry, which has battled for 30 years with the problem of fruit spotting bug is fearful that as much as $72 million will be wiped from the farmgate value of the Australian crop because the insect won’t be properly controlled in summer.
The fruit spotting bug – a large mosquito-type insect – drills into young avocados causing the fruit to mature with hardened blemishes which render it almost worthless in most produce markets.
Fruit spotting bug and lace wing bugs are two significant pests of avocado and macadamia crops in NSW and Queensland still kept in check by endosulfan despite big efforts by growers to reduce use of the chemical in the past decade.
“Endosulfan has remained one of the most effective and softest products available to our farmers and we’d hoped to achieve more progress on alternatives before any ban was introduced,” said Avocados Australia chief executive officer, Antony Allen.
The NSW and Queensland governments and agribusinesses are partly funding the urgent horticulture initiative.
After a long run of negative publicity about endosolfan, the Federal Government agency, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), last week declared prolonged use of the chemical was likely to “lead to adverse environmental effects from spray drift and run off”.
But the APVMA’s report also said endosulfan was ”not a significant risk to public health,” despite some international reports which have identified endosulfan as an interfering with hormones and reproduction.
It is already banned in more than 60 countries, including European Union member States and New Zealand.
Although endosulfan’s use has shrunk significantly in Australia, the two year phase-out to a complete ban is still likely to be awkward for the tropical fruit, nut and vegetable industries, and the cotton sector, which applies the biggest quantity of the chemical.
Cotton Australia said today only 10 per cent of the crop was treated with endosulfan, and application restrictions made it increasingly hard for farmers to work with it, but the chemical was cost effective.
Cotton Research and Development Co-operative general manager, Bruce Pyke, said endosulfan was a “rather unique” product which caused limited collateral damage to friendly insect populations and fitted well with intergrated pest management strategies promoting predator bugs.
He said while fewer crops were treated with endosulfan in recent years, the looming season was shaping up as similar to 1998 when a mass of winter vegetation growth produce a “horrendous explosion” of aphids, myrids and other insects migrating into cotton.
Farm chemical manufacturer, Nufarm Australia, confirmed it would phase out endosulfan distribution as formulation supplies ran down, not continuing sales for the full phase-out period once its current stocks were exhausted.
Nufarm had generally anticipated the registration changes, and was therefore developing alternatives, but a lack of suitable replacements continued for some crops.
Macadamia growers had two alternate treatment options – an existing product called Lepidex, and a new line, Lancer, to be available in the next month.
Australian Macadamia Society chief executive officer, Jolyon Burnett, said new management strategies would be expensive in the short to medium term but growers accepted the changes were here.
“We just hope governments and others don’t see this change as an opportunity to start a stampede, or Australians will end up paying a lot more to eat and eating a lot more food grown overseas,” Mr Burnett said.