Instagram Influencers Are Trampling Australia’s Canola Crops

(Bloomberg) — The bright yellow fields of blooming canola across Australia’s western grain belt are attracting selfie-obsessed tourists, sparking fears of plants getting trampled and diseases spreading.

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It’s hardly the first time that the yellow blossoms have drawn crowds, but this year there’s urgency to ensure that the Australian harvest meets expectations to help replenish global stockpiles. Increased moisture this season has also multiplied the risk of diseases spreading by about “tenfold,” said Western Australia Farmers Federation chief executive officer Trevor Whittington.

With Western Australia’s borders now open after nearly two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the return of frolicking tourists could be a threat to the agricultural industry. Authorities earlier this month issued a public warning about the spread of “potentially devastating” impact of weeds and pests on the valuable oilseed that’s used in everything from salad dressings to deep-frying.

“Suddenly you’ve got people running around canola paddocks, driving up the laneway to get the best shot — some of the shots are absolutely magnificent,” Whittington said. “The end result is we’re getting mud on boots and mud on tyres,” he added. “We’re becoming increasingly concerned.”

It’s difficult to track how widespread the selfie-mania is, but Whittington said farmers are wondering where the “tip of the iceberg” is as tourist numbers are expected to go through the roof leading into summer. “It’s all about social media in how these things explode,” he added.

So far this year, wet conditions across Australia have given many reasons for optimism, despite the risk of diseases. Output is expected at 6.6 million tons, the second-largest ever. It’s been especially buoyant in Western Australia, where just under 50% of the nation’s canola crop is grown this season.

While farmers are facing a scourge of tourists putting crops at risk for a perfect social media shot, there are far more pressing issues at the moment.

“Is it going to rain? Or is the price of canola going to go up or down? What is the exchange rate? They are far bigger concerns — as well as fertilizer for next year,” Whittington said. “But it is one of those new challenges that the industry just has to be aware of.”

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