Melons in comeback

By Country News

Australia’s rockmelon industry is getting a helping hand from the Federal Government to help it recover from a deadly listeria outbreak that gutted the industry.

Contamination at Rombola Family Farms in Nericon, near Griffith in the NSW Riverina district, was blamed for the outbreak earlier this year which left six people dead.

The government said last week it would give the melon industry $100200 to get back on its feet after the outbreak hurt farmers and gutted Australia’s export market.

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the outbreak was ‘‘absolutely tragic’’ for the families and friends of those who died.

It cost the industry about $60million because growers couldn’t sell their fruit and had to leave it on the vine to rot, he said.

‘‘The outbreak gutted the industry, hurting farmers thousands of kilometres from the source,’’ Mr Littleproud said.

Before the outbreak, Australian rockmelons were sought-after internationally. Mr Littleproud hopes the funding boost will help the market regain that status.

The Australian Melon Association will work with the government to re-establish key markets in Singapore, New Zealand, Japan and Malaysia.

‘‘This grant will help the melon industry to get boots on the ground overseas, with trade visits by teams of expert growers, exporters and food safety scientists,’’ Mr Littleproud said.

The NSW Food Authority found the outbreak was caused by weather and environmental conditions that contaminated the surface of the fruit at the farm, with the bacteria persisting after the fruit was washed.