Australian snails spark trade row with China

31 Aug, 2016

Yield loss is not the only problem associated with snails, at least not for growers in Australia.

China – currently the world’s largest importer of barley – has expressed frustration at the number of snails being found in export consignments from Australia, culminating in a decision by China to ban produce from certain exporters.

“We’ve worked really hard to get access to certain markets,” said Grains Industry Market Access Forum manager Tony Russell. “Retaining market access in all crop types is something we constantly need to be working on.”

He said the industry needed to work together to deliver what the Chinese market demanded. “They want greater focus on snail management,” he said, suggesting the first step would be working towards standardised testing systems in Australia and China, followed by giving Australian growers a clearer picture about Chinese demands, and how best to achieve them.

“That may come in the form of changing harvest practices, or on-farm pest management.”

Of most concern is the small pointed conical snail, which together with the white Italian snail has been a pest of concern in South Australia for decades. They’re now spreading into Western Australia too, where the effect of snails on yield loss alone is now estimated at AU$6m a year.

But crop loss does not reflect the full story; stories abound of snails clogging header sieves during harvest. The Chinese ban has merely added to the concern.

Feed barley standards have now been tightened, with a threshold of just two snails per half-litre, down from ten previously. The new standards have been through two rounds of consultation.

Data from CBH, one of Western Australia’s main grain handlers, showed that over the last five years, the number of snails detected has doubled in number every year.