Auckland's worsening fruit fly outbreak has alarmed Bay kiwifruit growers who fear it could close off overseas markets at a critical time in the season.
Te Puke kiwifruit and avocado grower Ron Bailey said the outbreak could not have happened at a worse time because of the risk it posed to the movement of New Zealand fruit.
"We are looking to start harvesting the last week of March, so fruit will be flowing through to the markets by April."
At stake was a sizeable chunk of kiwifruit and avocado crops that were the horticultural backbone of the Bay of Plenty and worth nearly $1.5 billion in export earnings last year.
He was alarmed at how a third fruit fly, a female, and 39 larvae had been found on fruit trees at a Grey Lynn property.
The latest discoveries were the fourth incursion since May 2012. Prior to that there had not been a Queensland fruit fly detected for 16 years. "It is getting into the category of shutting the door after the horse has bolted. We would like to see it stopped at airports or the wharves."
Mr Bailey recalled how a Mediterranean fruit fly incursion into Auckland resulted in China banning the importation of New Zealand fruit for 12 months. Since then, China had become a major importer of kiwifruit, taking 13 per cent of the country's export crop.
"If two or three key markets shut their doors on us at this critical time it would have a huge impact on the industry."
He said the risk was that some countries were slow to lift their embargoes, even after the all-clear had been given by the Ministry for Primary Industries.
"A lot of our export markets were based on the fact that we are a fruit fly free country."
Mr Bailey was concerned that biosecurity in New Zealand worked on the basis of acceptable risk when it was growers that were taking most of the risk.
Te Puke kiwifruit grower and member of the Biosecurity Ministerial Advisory Committee Peter Ombler was seriously concerned that there had been three incursions in the last 13 months.
"The good news is that this incursion is still contained. It does not look like it is an uncontrollable outbreak."
The first priority was to deal with the outbreak and give New Zealand's trading partners the comfort of knowing there were no issues to be concerned about. The industry then had to sit down with the Ministry to come up with a system that was less risky but still affordable and not too cumbersome.
Mr Ombler said the real threat was from Australia's eastern seaboard and he supported HortNZ's call to X-ray baggage, particularly through the high-risk period from January to April-May.
Katikati Fruitgrowers Association executive member Hugh Moore said he was worried, particularly now that the Queensland fruit fly had spread as far as South Australia. Border restrictions had been removed from within Australia's eastern and southern states.
"I believe they have got to have more sniffer dogs ... if fruit flies reached the Bay we would be stuffed."