Fruit and veg needs practical assistance

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 8th February 2011

Australia’s peak horticulture industry body, Growcom, today said it was time for governments to get down to tin tacks and provide the practical assistance needed by horticultural growers to get back to the business of growing fruit and vegetables.

Chief Executive Officer Alex Livingstone said the organisation put the total damage bill from the Queensland floods and Cyclone Yasi to Queensland horticulture at well in excess of $500 million.

That was made up of $225 million in lost fruit and vegetable production (ABARES figure) together with a further $125 million in on-farm infrastructure in the Queensland floods.

In addition, Cyclone Yasi had caused losses of around $10 million in the avocado industry; $200 million in the banana industry; around $6 million in the papaw and papaya industry and a yet to be assessed amount in the tropical tree fruit (e.g. rambutan, limes, lychees and longan) and cassava and taro industries. Private on-farm infrastructure losses were estimated at a further $200 million.

“The first priority in a recovery plan is a wage subsidy package in order to keep valuable workers on farms in horticultural regions to help with farm clean-ups and preparation for future crops,” said Livingstone.

“This measure will also assist in stimulating the local economies of rural towns.

“The wage subsidy assistance provided after Cyclone Larry was the single most valuable component in the recovery of the banana industry and is now needed Statewide to assist after the floods and Cyclone Yasi.

“Secondly, Industry-based Recovery Officers are needed who can directly assist growers by being located in flood/cyclone affected areas,” he said.

“As a minimum requirement, two should be provided at Bundaberg to service the Bundaberg, Gayndah, Mundubbera and Emerald areas; two to service the Lockyer Valley and Darling Downs and two to service the Tully, Innisfail and Cardwell areas.

“Regular on-farm meetings are needed in a range of locales to ensure growers are able to access the information they need. These meetings will also serve to provide moral support for growers who have suffered traumatic losses or who have witnessed these losses on neighbours’ farms.

“Local support is needed urgently. Now that the initial shock of the emergency has gone people are left to carry on with the dispiriting work of rebuilding their livelihoods, some of them literally from the ground up. While some growers may soon have a crop planted, others are looking at months of daunting work ahead. Growers need to know that there are helping hands supporting them in this work, that they are not alone.”

Livingstone said limited progress had been made in districts such as the Lockyer Valley in terms of road and bridge rebuilding but more assistance was needed to aid growers in farm cleanup.

He praised the David Evans Group which had cleaned a Grantham grower’s inundated tractors free of charge.

“Growers are in urgent need of access to heavy equipment such as laser levelers, graders, front end loaders, bulldozers, back hoes and buckets to assist with the clean-up,” said Livingstone.

“The topography on many farms has completely changed and growers are finding themselves with different types of soil, having lost their own top soil to the rivers and creeks.

“Farms will not only need to be cleared of substantial rubbish but farm layouts will also need to be reestablished before operations can return to full production.

“Some farmers may have crops ready in six weeks but will be hampered in their business dealings because of the lack of a phone service into the farm and will be unable to transport produce to market because of unusable roads.”

Livingstone said that given that the scale of the devastation to the horticulture industry across the state was quite unprecedented, it was time for governments, both federal and state, to provide the industry with the full range of assistance which proved so valuable after Cyclone Larry.