Local, Politics

How ‘The Land’ reported Woopi Dam decision by Council

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.

By Jamie Brown

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.

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.”

First published at The Land, Wednesday 15 January 2020. See; https://www.theland.com.au/story/6577966/help-for-berry-growers


  1. Marc Percival

    The Coffs Harbour industry needs to totally revise its methods. Black weed mat is a really stupid practice in drying, heating sub tropics. It stops small and important rains from reaching the roots, necessitating fertigation for important soil ameliorants and this is 10 times more expensive and physically impossible to do.

    It also heats the roots sending them below the soil surface. It provides no biological or nutrient value. Their irrigation management is utterly primitive, planting densities, weed control, plant protection and nutrient management are also outmoded and out of step with market requirements as well as in conflict with the law and environmental management principles. Council has a great chance to negotiate a mandatory code of PRACTICE here that will benefit the environment, society and the industry but they are too…??? whatever to do that…. Very disappointing.

    Basic greed and ignorance has placed this group in this state, they could become organic and make money but they refuse to do so , making 90% less than their organic counterparts based on a tangible lack of leadership and inane misinformation.

    If they make 30% of their break even most of the time while ruining the visual and physical environment and breaking most laws that apply to them and incinerate common sense why bother?

    (Reprinted from the Citizens Unite Coffs Harbour Facebook page – Wednesday 15 January 2020)

  2. The blueberry industry in Coffs Harbour is a perfect example of greed and haphazard development.A documentary was filmed on the disastrous avocado industry in Chile.Guess what its all about water or lack of.
    Our bizarre lack of regulation of many agricultural practices has allowed this environmental disaster.Government departments state and local have been caught with their pants down.This has included clearing of native vegetation ,even near rivers.The construction of unapproved dams and no regulation of pumping from rivers/creeks.Bellingen council did try and regulate the industry asking for DA approvals for blueberry farms .But of course it was shot down by the dominant Nat party saying it gives jobs (tourist backpackers).The government depts have been totally inept dealing with this cowboy industry.
    The bottom line is economics.If these farms had been organic it may have helped ,especially with overuse of fertiliser/chemicals.But massive oversupply and lack of water will not be solved by being organic.Eventually the blueberry industry will face the same demise as the banana industry here :economic viability.As with the banana industry funding from landcare(Steep lands) will be sought to revegetate old blueberry farms with taxpayers money.I suppose as the Nat party would say it gives jobs again!!

    Farmers in Queensland’s drought-declared and bushfire-hit Southern Downs Region say they are devastated the council is allowing a company to take up to 96 million litres of water a year for bottling.

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