Help for berry growers

Blueberry growers fight for water on wettest part of the coast

Horticulture
Blueberry growers on alternative water supply have had a reasonable season at Coffs Harbour, as seen with this fruit irrigated from recycled town water. However, those relying on rain have been punished by this record drought.

Blueberry growers on alternative water supply have had a reasonable season at Coffs Harbour, as seen with this fruit irrigated from recycled town water. However, those relying on rain have been punished by this record drought.

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Worst drought in wettest part of the coast has growers begging for spare water

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Worst affected blueberry growers near Coffs Harbour, in the wettest part of the state, have cut their production bushes to the ground in a bid to save them from drought stress.

At the same time, 40 per cent of employees in the local berry industry are out of work while they wait for rain.

For a local industry that delivers $300 to $350 million to the farm gate every year, out of which 65 per cent go to wages, local businesses are "shuddering" at the thought of what might happen if summer storms are delayed any longer, says Berries international chairman and general manager at Costas' Berries International, Peter McPherson.

In a bid to assist, the Coffs Harbour City Council on Monday night voted to urgently request NSW Government to alter licence conditions on the dormant Woolgoolga dam to allow nearly half its unused capacity, or 100 mega litres, to be shared equally among needy growers.

There is hope among industry leaders that the application will be processed immediately, so that the emergency supply can be put to good use.

At Monday night's meeting, Cr Sally Townley urged caution and slow down, lest the approval open the floodgates to pollution from contaminated sediments but Cr George Secato said the measure was meant to stem an emergency, with calls for irrigation assistance also coming from tomato and cucumber growers in the area.

"We were taken by surprise by this because the city itself has good reserves of drinking water," he said.

While the Coffs Coast is soon expected to benefit from the first reasonable rain in months, last year's total was just 60 per cent of its average 1600mm, or 900mm at Coffs Harbour airport. Further north at Woolgoolga that total was more like 600mm, says Mr McPherson.

In November fires made a run for the ocean, forcing growers on coast range to evacuate.

"This is a really abnormal period in the industry's 35 year history," said Mr McPherson.

"In the longer term we need to plan for water security. Growers need to look at ways and means to tap into recycled water. It's up the grower to decide if they have enough storage to get through times like this."

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