Growers put difficult questions about the future of the region’s fruit industry to Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford last week, after recent hailstorms destroyed thousands of hectares of fruit.
Member for Northern Victoria Wendy Lovell invited Ms Pulford to a meeting at Dasha Sherif’s Lemnos orchards, with rotting, damaged apricots scattered on the ground surrounding them.
The meeting brought together hail-affected fruit growers, Fruit Growers Victoria representatives, state and local government representatives.
Mr Sherif lost all of his fruit, and all income, after two recent hailstorms within the space of four weeks.
‘‘We’re trying to create markets, especially with Asia, the demand is for premium, glamour-quality fruit, when you get events like this (the hailstorms) you can’t do that,’’ he said.
‘‘We had a discussion for half an hour to 40 minutes about some of the problems going into the future, she’ll go back and see what she can come up with I guess.
‘‘We had a lot of questions and the main one was whether we could get a hail netting scheme or subsidy.
‘‘If we can implement something like that — you do get cleaner fruit, you save water, it helps with fruit flies and other pests too.
‘‘We’re basically asking to take the pressure off the growers at the moment.’’
City of Greater Shepparton Mayor Dinny Adem said 500 workers had lost employment at the affected orchards.
‘‘The impact on Greater Shepparton is significant,’’ Mr Adem said.
Fruit Growers Victoria echoed concerns about a reduction of local picking jobs.
‘‘If you sell stone fruit it will be affected this year, but apples and pears will be affected next year,’’ FGV industry development officer Petar Bursac said.
‘‘These five guys (growers at the meeting) together employ around 500 people and they’ve already starting firing people.’’
He said it was up to the state government to pitch in and help keep the fruit industry afloat, after an estimated 2000ha of fruit were destroyed by the storms.
‘‘Something has to be done because this is too frequent, two hailstorms in four weeks, it’s too much,’’ he said.
‘‘Besides hail netting people should also get some financial support to survive the next year and to remove the (damaged) fruit.
‘‘This will affect exports because 90 per cent of pears are from the Goulburn Valley and they are the most affected.’’
But no announcement on a hail netting subsidy or scheme was made, with Ms Pulford telling growers she would hold further consultations with them to determine a plan of action.
‘‘I’ve said to the growers that I’m happy to work with them on some options and explore what is possible,’’ she said.
‘‘One of the discussions with industry is around industry’s appetite for this (hail netting) and what kind of investment people are willing to make, so that’s the discussion I’ll continue to have with industry representatives and growers.’’