Australian police are still clueless on who could have perpetrated the massive poisoning of tomato and other plants in Queensland north.
The poison is estimated to have destroyed more than seven million seedlings and 16,000 tomato plants, resulting in the loss of about 16,000 tonnes of fresh produce, hurting about 30 of the district's 40 growers, and could lead to a spike in supermarket prices.
AdvertisementThe saboteurs face up to seven years' jail, if convicted, it has been stated, but the police have not been able to home in on a single suspect so far.
The only reliable guess hazarded thus far is that only someone with an intimate knowledge of the irrigation systems in the system could have pulled it off.
They suspect that between June 18 and June 20, someone crept into a pumping station at East Euri Creek, 25km west of Bowen, and injected a large amount of herbicide into a pipe system. When the pump was engaged, the poison was piped to only two farms -- Supa Seedlings, a large seedling grower, and Donnelly Farming, growers of hydroponic tomatoes.
It's not the first time farms in the district have been targeted.
In July 2006, up to $1 million worth of crops were destroyed when a glysophate-based poison was placed in a water tank used by an aerial spraying contractor.
In 2002, Andrew and Jenny Paterson's Queensland Seedlings Nursery, a 10-minute drive to the east of the location of this year's attack, was targeted, with the loss of about six million seedlings.
Despite significant resources being thrown at the two previous cases, they remain unsolved, it is pointed out.
Rosemary Menkens, the local state MP, said the crime is a ''dastardly thing'' for Bowen's 9000 residents.
''Is it a sick local person, or is it something bigger? Is it industrial sabotage from another area or another state? It was a very sophisticated crime.''
Ms Menkens said discussions with some of the 30 affected growers had all but excluded the regional rivalry theory that has focused on nearby Bundaberg, about 800 kilometres south.
''At this time of year, Bundaberg's finished ... It's a most unfair thing to be said about poor old Bundaberg, but that was the rumour that was going around,'' she said.
Police are still piecing together a possible motive for the poisoning. ''It could be a grudge, it could be competition based, it could be the result of time-established market share, or it could be an act of vandalism by a couple of young hoons - we can't rule that out either,'' Detective Inspector Miles said.
The mayor of Whitsunday Mike Brunker said most agreed the suspects had ''intimate knowledge'' of the local industry and timed the attack when it could inflict maximum financial devastation.
The crime is now expected to cost the local economy as much as $23 million.
The seedlings were expected to hit the nation's supermarket shelves in September, and because Bowen is Australia's biggest winter crop-growing area, prices could be pushed up significantly.
The Queensland Police Commissioner is considering whether to offer a reward, perhaps of $200,000, for information leading to an arrest.