Ray Hick (left), president of the Low Chill Australia, and Mark Donnolly, business development officer for VP Structures Queensland, attending the National Low Chill Stonefruit Conference at the Ballina RSL Club yesterday.
Ray Hick (left), president of the Low Chill Australia, and Mark Donnolly, business development officer for VP Structures Queensland, attending the National Low Chill Stonefruit Conference at the Ballina RSL Club yesterday. Doug Eaton

Stonefruit growers hit by winds

HAIL damage, pests, diseases, competition from the mango industry and a lack of support from governments – these are just some of the issues facing local stonefruit growers.

The three-day National Low Chill Stonefruit Conference was officially opened by State Ballina MP Don Page at the Ballina RSL Club yesterday.

Mr Page said the local growers had suffered ‘huge losses’ over the past three years, mainly because of two particularly devastating hail storms.

“But overall, I think the outlook for the industry is good,” he said.

Low Chill Australia president Ray Hick said the industry needed to ensure it had a strong voice.

He also said the State and Federal governments must decide whether Australia was going to be self-sufficient in food production.

“If the answer to that is no, then I don’t see a future for the horticulture industry,” Mr Hick said.

“We are happy to stand on our own two feet and compete, but it is very hard.

“Mango growers are our biggest competitors because their season is very similar to ours.

“But they are a lot bigger than us.

“Our industry is at a crossroads.

“There is also much talk about climate change at the moment.

“We agree that the weather patterns are changing ... we need to work closely with the experts.”

Bureau of Meteorology climatologist, Agata Imielska, told the conference that NSW could expect to see ‘moreextreme’ weather.

“You know that saying, when it rains it pours? Well, when it rains it will really pour,” she said.

“Increases in sea levels also have the potential to increase the risk of floods.

“Obviously we are expecting temperatures to continue to increase.”

Ms Imielska also said farmers could expect ‘damaging winds’ and fewer cold nights.

“But we need to do more research,” she admitted.

The low chill stonefruitindustry in Australian turns over about $45 million a year.

Local growers contribute about $8 million.

The National Low Chill Stonefruit Conference continues today at the Ballina RSL Club.

It finishes tomorrow with a field trip to orchards in the Bangalow area, where there will be demonstrations of tree training, mechanical hedging and climate change mitigation options.

Delegates will also visit Alstonville’s House With No Steps to see a commercial pack house and assembly plant.



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