Rockmelon growers hit despite fruit given the all-clear

Jacinta CantatoreHarvey-Waroona Reporter

Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan has urged consumers to support farmers indirectly affected by the listeria outbreak at a New South Wales rockmelon farm.

“This will be a tough time for our growers – West Australians can show their support for the local industry and local jobs by eating rockmelon,” Ms MacTiernan said.

She said exports were likely to take a hit despite WA producers being given the all-clear.

“The State Government is working with the Federal Government to minimise any disruptions to trade and make clear to trading partners that WA’s rockmelons are not affected.

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But Waroona rockmelon grower Dane Capogreco, from Capogreco Farms, said reassurances had come too late with 1000 tonnes of rockmelons left to rot so far.

“There’s no consumer confidence,” Mr Capogreco said.

“Every week we lose 600-700 tonnes of fruit.”

He said one of the State’s biggest rockmelon suppliers had blamed a lack of communication by the NSW Agriculture Department to consumers and overseas buyers.

“On February 23 the issue was announced and on March 13 they named the producer,” he said.

“That’s three weeks after they isolated the farm.”

Before the listeria scare, Mr Capogreco had steady exports to Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

All Australian rockmelons have been recalled in these countries until they can be tested by local health departments, and Mr Capogreco is worried the fruit could rot in the meantime.

“By the time they get tested and given the all-clear, we could lose 12 containers of fruit. That’s 250 tonnes either in (overseas) storage or in transit.”

Mr Capogreco said he did not blame these countries for taking the necessary precautions.

“They were left in the dark and weren’t getting any reassurances from the agriculture department that not all producers were affected,” he said.

“Ninety per cent of our fruit goes overseas. At the moment those doors are shut, so 90 per cent of our business is gone.”

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