MEANWHILE … ‘Moyne Shire Council Mayor Mick Wolfe told the ABC if it was his decision alone, he would refuse the money because he does not think the region is in drought.’
Money was allocated where it wasn’t needed!
WT Scomo *?
End of fruit cropping along lower Darling River a ‘big loss’ for industry, as growers pushed to brink
SUNDAY 29 SEPTEMBER 2019
The end of irrigated horticulture on the lower Darling River will cost the citrus industry decades of technical expertise, according to the country’s largest citrus exporter.
- Six citrus growing families have run out of water to irrigate their crops
- A long-awaited Federal Government compensation package is yet to be agreed
- The growers are having to let their crops die while they wait
Fruit growers on the lower Darling have begun turning off the water to their permanent plantings — killing their trees — as they harvest what will be the final citrus crop grown in the valley.
“That’s the end of the business. It’s as simple as that,” Alan Whyte of Jamesville Station said.
“You can’t pick up the tree and park it, you can’t mothball it then think you’ll fire it up in two years’ time.”
Six families in the area have spent five years negotiating with the Commonwealth to hand back their high-security water licences in exchange for compensation to exit the industry.
Now, with virtually no irrigation water left, they have been forced to turn off the taps before a deal has been reached.
“This current season has been quite good, we’ve had a good crop of fruit, but there won’t be another crop from here, ever,” Mr Whyte said.
‘Big loss to the industry’
Mr Whyte has supplied the Mildura Fruit Company for more than 25 years and, with his father, was a pioneer of fruit growing in the district.
The company’s grower services manager, Bill Robinson, said the Whytes were “very technically advanced” growers who produced high-quality fruit.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding his business, Mr Whyte went on a study tour in March to Australia’s biggest citrus-growing competitors in the Southern Hemisphere, Chile and Peru.
“Alan was obviously very hopeful that things would change,” Mr Robinson said.
“He’s learnt the best growing techniques and the best varieties to grow on his property and he’s implemented that over 20, 25 years, so it’s a big loss to the Australian industry as a whole.
“He’s up in the top 10, 15 per cent of the growers that grow the best fruit and, more importantly, the best varieties.”
‘Nowhere to turn’
Rachel Strachan of Tulney Point Station said the collapse of the local industry and the threat to her family’s livelihood was causing significant stress.
“I don’t know how we’re going to put food on the table, I really, really don’t, because all of our income stream is through horticulture,” she said.
“We have nowhere to turn at the moment.”
Nerida Healy of Court Nareen Station between Pooncarie and Menindee said the pressure had started affecting her children.
“It’s a bit sad when your kids actually play meetings as their game and they set up at the computer,” Ms Healy said.
“My two-year-old said to me one day, ‘Shhh, I just need to do these emails and I just need some quiet’.”
Mr Whyte said the past five years had been a “pretty tough ride”.
“The balance sheets on those properties have been destroyed … and you can’t really sell or list for sale or value any of those properties at anything other than dryland properties at the moment.”
At the Mildura Fruit Company, Mr Robinson said he had made personal connections with the growers.
“Now the trees are dying, I think, psychologically, it must be very, very hard,” he said.
“We asked Alan how he was coping. He said he was coping quite good up until the week the trees were starting to die and he’s been struggling since then.”
The federal Department of Agriculture said independent experts had visited each of the properties and were preparing reports.
“Negotiations on the terms of a potential agreement are expected to commence in October, once the department has considered the independent expert advice and is satisfied that any future agreement would represent value for money,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.
Victoria takes an interest
The looming end of irrigated horticulture in the lower Darling has begun to capture political attention south of the River Murray.
Independent state MPs Suzanna Sheed and Ali Cupper toured the area and visited the Whyte and Strachan properties earlier this year.
Meanwhile, a Murray-Darling Basin Plan project to reduce the volume of water usually stored in the Menindee Lakes, which feed the lower Darling, could make cropping unviable even if flows return.
Victorian Government staff briefed stakeholders in Mildura about the state’s role in the project, which aims to offset 100 gigalitres of water by reducing evaporation and improving efficiency.
The Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning said it wanted to make sure the project did not leave irrigators, communities or the environment worse off.
“We want to ensure the proposed project doesn’t have any adverse impact on reliability and deliverability of water supplies for Victorian Murray water users, downstream communities including those around Mildura, and environmental values,” a spokeswoman said.