Why Pistoia "can't afford" for Xylella to spread

A leading Italian grower says the European industry needs to work together to stop plant disease Xylella spreading.

Classiflora Zelari's Adam Wolczynski and Stefan Sogni
Classiflora Zelari's Adam Wolczynski and Stefan Sogni

Piante Zelari's Dr Stefano Sogni says he would like to bring a voice from "the other side" to the table of discussion on Xylella fastidiosa, which has caused devastation to affected regions including Puglia.

He believes the disease is not new and is restricted to a very specific small area (8,000 ha) in the heel of italy in Salento, Apulia, six years after its outbreak.

Corsica, Provence, Saxony, Balearics and Valencia have demarcated zones where movement of plants is not allowed. Some UK retailers and importers say they are going to take stronger action above what they have to do legally to stop the disease coming into the UK by stopping selling planyts such as polygala, or stopping importing from whole countries.

Professionals in Italy, including Zelari, have been aware of this disease since the early stages in 2011, "even before it became known to the majorities of the plant market operators".

He said the area from which most of what generically go under the name of 'Italian plants' is in Pistoia where Zelari is and whiich is 500+ miles away from xylella-hit Salento.

Tuscany, the region where Pistoia is located, is certified by the Italian ministry of food, agricultural and forestry as Xylella-free.

Sogni said: "We professionals have been taking a serious conscious approach to avoid further diffusion of this threat. No plant material has been taken from the area nor from anywhere near the area where the disease is confined. This, has we feel and are very responsible for the environment and our industry."

He said in Tuscany there is a 90.000 ha olive crop, and a world-renowned wine-making industry including Chianti so "we cannot afford the diffusion of xylella", adding that it is the "acknowledged agent" of Grapes Pierce disease (PGD), known in California from the early 19th century.

Sogni added that in Pistoia, which is at the heart of nursery activity in Europe, the plants business feeds 5.000 families: "An outbreak would completely kill trade and cause dramatic micro-economy consequences. We must take the maximum possible care. And we are."

He said ARPAT, the government regional phytosanitary authority, has been running routine random inspections as from 2014. In 2016 they did 1,204 inspections, visiting 516 nurseries, including Zelari in several occasions. They also inspected 301 olive crops and 387 landscaping sites and public gardens. They collected 3,633 samples of 54 plant varieties plus 649 samples of vector insects, a total of 4,312 samples with no track of infection, and inspections still continue. Most of the nurseries, including Zelari, are also running their own regular tests.

Sogni said: "This threat cannot be underestimated. Responsibility cannot be fully finally dropped on the British nurseries. We are all fighting it together. We are totally on the same side of Defra and HTA. Nobody should be scared of inspections, run for the interests of your country, trade and not. The concern should be on buying only from certified, professional, responsible companies. If the problem isn’t treated at the source, even British nurseries would fail to guarantee the sanity of the plant material."

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