CITRUS growers have welcomed today's announcement of an export fruit disinfestation facility at Merbein, west of Mildura.Wakefields Ironhorse Intermodal plans to build the $920,000 facility, with the aid of a Victorian Government grant of $300,000 and a $150,000 contribution from Mildura Fruit Company.
Murray Valley Citrus chief executive Hugh Flett said the facility would increase the state's capacity to start cold sterilisation of fruit destined for Queensland fruit fly sensitive markets.
''A lot of the product has had to be transported down to the Shepparton cool stores to commence its cold sterilisation there, depending on what export market it's going to,'' he said.
''That will benefit growers because sterilisation for short-haul shipments can be started there, rather than having to be transported twice.
''They can kick it off here, containerise it and train it straight to the port and have it loaded and away.''
Mr Flett said timeliness was less important for fruit destined to be shipped on journeys of 20-days or more, when cold treatment could be completed in-transit.
While the region's horticulture industry was committed to regaining pest-free area status, Mr Flett said this depended on export markets recognising Sunraysia's PFA status.
''We're confident we'll be back to pest-free in the northern part of the zone within a year,'' he said.
''We're in a much better situation than we have been (in previous years). A lot of the outbreaks have been declared closed.''
Current outbreaks at Buronga and Gol Gol were extended by the detection of single flies last month.
Former citrus grower, Member for Mildura Peter Crisp said the Mildura region produced 74 per cent of Australia's table grapes and 24 per cent of its citrus.
Mr Crisp said this contributed $500 million to the local economy.
''The only currently available facility to treat fruit in this way is located in Shepparton, almost 500km away, which adds considerable transport costs and time delays for local growers.
''The current process of transporting fruit to Shepparton to lower its temperature and kill any pests can now take place on site, saving the 130 farmers who will use the facility $460,000 a year.''
Construction is due to begin shortly with the new facility expected to be operational by late May.