Heavenly Valley Farm manager Rick Dalli practices responsible spraying on the Bangalow farm.
Heavenly Valley Farm manager Rick Dalli practices responsible spraying on the Bangalow farm.

Battle lines drawn over pesticides

NORTHERN RIVERS farmers have slammed environmental groups after attacks on farmers’ use of regulated pesticides.

But environmentalists say Australia is behind Europe in banning unsafe pesticides and regulatory bodies need to come up to speed.

“We expect growers need to make money but not at the expense of poisoning their neighbours and the environment,” said Bangalow-based National Toxics Network co-ordinator Jo Immig.

Agricultural chemicals have been a subject of intense debate in the area since at least seven cases of the rare condition gastroschisis have been uncovered in the past 10 years.

She said several studies had found a link between the incidence of gastroschisis and pesticides and it warranted further investigation.

However, North Coast Area Health studies have not shown a link, said the communications officer for The Australian Macadamia Society Chris Papas.

As growers feel the heat of growing pressure to curb their use of pesticides, the latest blow comes from a government move to roll out new no-spray zones of up to 300 metres to prevent pesticides drifting across farm boundaries to sensitive areas, including schools and waterways.

The proposed regulations could mean significant areas of productive agriculture being pulled out of production, the chief executive of AMS, Jolyon Burnett, has said.

Yesterday Mr Papas said growers were under increasing pressure because of tree changers who had moved into the area and were trying to make it more like the suburbs.

He said there were around 600 growers in the region’s macadamia industry which was worth around $120 million a year.

“We feel these tree changers and environmental groups are trying to destroy the local farming economy,” he said.

“Our growers are not rogue individuals floating around over-spraying.

“They want to do the right thing and they are strong advocates of regulatory control. But these city folk believe we are all a bunch of rednecks.”

The president of the Low Chill Stone Fruit Growers Association, Ray Hick, said he believed growers in Australia were some of the most regulated in the world.

He said many orchards sprayed at night “so there is no spray drift”.

According to Mr Hick, there are around 150 stone fruit growers in the Northern Rivers, with a collective industry worth of $8 to $10 million.

He said industry representatives had previously had discussions with local councils about making growing areas clear to new residential buyers but these discussions were unsuccessful.

“So yes, we do have orchards and village side by side because of council planning,” he said.

“But our growers act in a very responsible manner (in relation to pesticides).”

Ms Immig said there were up to 80 chemicals being used in Australia that had been banned by the European Union because they failed to meet health and safety standards.

She said farmers were being let down by Australian regulators “dragging the chain”.

Ms Immig believed that a wholly organic growing community could be done in the Northern Rivers and done profitably.

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