(CMR) The Department of Agriculture (DOA) has announced that this is trying to work closely with Christmas tree suppliers to ensure a joyful holiday season for all. This after Trees 4Life, a major live tree supplier, announced in September they would not be supplying trees this year.
In order to ensure the successful importation of Christmas trees this year (DOA) officials have been working closely with importers to provide guidance related to the requirements for importation of trees.
This collaboration has become increasingly important due to the steady increase in interceptions of pests of quarantine importance in tree shipments since 2015. The DOA’s goal is to uphold its mandate to preserve and protect the health and wellbeing of Cayman’s plant life but officials are also mindful of holiday traditions, and want to facilitate their continuation as much as possible.
“The focus of the DOA remains the development of effective measures to mitigate the quarantine risk associated with importation of Christmas trees and the potential introduction of invasive plant pests that could impact the agriculture and horticulture sectors and ultimately the biodiversity of the Cayman Islands. This has to be balanced with minimising the economic impact on all the stakeholders, including the consumer,”
said Minister for Agriculture, Hon. Juliana O’Connor-Connolly.
Christmas trees have been imported from the USA and Canada for many years without much problem but DOA Director Adrian Estwick also said the threat of invasive pest species in imported trees is real and can be far reaching.
“Many insects are non-host plant specific, also known as polyphagous, which means they will feed on a wide range of host plants. When introduced into a new environment they may adapt and over time become a pest of plants on which they were never previously recorded as a pest. This is true of many of the scale insects, a pest group common to pines,”
said Mr. Estwick.
In addition, Mr. Estwick cited the effects of the Pine Tortoise Scale (Toumeyella parvicornis) which is believed to have been introduced on Christmas trees and has become a major pest in the Turks & Caicos Islands in particular, placing a significant threat on entire Pineyard ecosystems. To date, no viable control for the pest has been found and if the current trends continue the likely outcome is the complete loss of that country’s native pine.
“I must commend my team on maintaining the careful balance needed for this endeavour,” continued Mr. Estwick. “They have been working arduously to ensure the public can have Christmas trees while considering the short and long-term effects on our environment.”
DOA has been in communication with and held meetings with importers since the summer and have tried to facilitate the process through minor revisions on import conditions based on feedback received. All revisions have been done in consultation with, and reviewed by representatives of the Caribbean Agriculture Health and Food Safety Agency (CAHFSA) the Regional Plant Protection Organization for the Caribbean, the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency (CFIA) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
The DOA encourages importers to contact 947-3090 for information on importation conditions and to facilitate a successful process.