Local, Opinion/Comment

“They Knew Years Ago” – Government Report Warned of ‘Blueberry Risks’

In early 2017 a NSW Government report on the blueberry industry was quietly released. Now Protect Coffs Water goes public with what it reveals.

by Protect Coffs Water.org

Sometimes the most candid opinions aren’t found in direct statements to the public, but are tucked away in business analysis where the public relations veil is lifted and truths are clearly spoken.

The ‘Blueberry Industry Business Barriers Review’ by Regional Development Australia – Northern Rivers is one of those candid places of revelation:

Hidden in plain sight – a candid report predicting community anger

It reveals a keen awareness – by the NSW Government, the Nationals, the industry and Gurmesh Singh – of the significant risks posed to the community by the continued expansion of blueberry farming.

Of course in the world of shallow short-term business thinking these community risks are not something to be seriously addressed, but instead are turned upside-down and simply considered business risks to further growth.

As we walk you through key parts of this report prepare to be incensed by the limited mindset, the candid admissions and the lack of interest in dealing with community risks:

Opening summary of the report

In the summary the mentality is immediately revealed. Detrimental issues are simply major barriers to growth.

Employment issues as a risk

Labour issues are beyond our focus, but you may not be aware of the significant issues of wage theft, abuse and poor and overcrowded accomodation linked to the blueberry industry.

To find out more watch the 7.30 report’s ‘When your dream holiday turns into a nightmare’ and check out our community research page.

Let’s continue.

Risks: farms next to residential areas, and community desire for regulation.

Right out of the gate the summary identifies a key risk to the industry: it’s just too close to residential areas in many places, including Woolgoolga.

They note the democratic desire to put development consent regulations in place, and call out Woolgoolga as a place where chemical trespass (a.k.a spray drift) and noise are already concerns.

Risks: economic viability of farms impacted by sensible restrictions on growers

Welcome to the heart of the mindset. They capture the fear of industry: that the public, realising the environmental harm to the community by the blueberry industry, will demand sensible restrictions that will impact the economic viability of these farms.

Implicit in this internal industry monologue is a revelation:

Safe, responsible farms might not be economically viable.

Sit with that admission for a bit.

Consider all the monumental issues facing humanity.

Is an irresponsible approach to money-making at the heart of so many of them?

Are we okay with this mentality in 2019?

Woolgoolga farms: intensity of farming, and slopes of farms are risks

The report candidly admits Woolgoolga farms engage in particularly intensive farming, presumably compared to other regions.

The steep plantings are also called out as a risk. Why? It’s not explained, but do steep plantings also imply, among other things, increased chemical run-off? We wonder…

While the blueberry industry attempts to conflate their industry with all farming and farmers, this report reveals that traditional farmers, such as dairy farmers and cattle growers, are very concerned about chemical overspray and general practices of the blueberry industry.

Try as they might, The Nationals attempts to imply blueberry opposition is only coming from agriculture-opposing NIMBYs and environmentalists is simply not true.

Their own base – multi-generational farmers – are up in arms about the industry, along with the rest of the community.

“We know farm practices are bad, and when we have to investigate this and make the revelations public, Woolgoolga locals are going to be mad.”

Yep, everyone knew.

Even two years ago.

Has anyone done anything meaningful about it?

We end our summary here on an incredibly important point.

The obsession with growth-at-all-costs is occurring in a market that was already destined for saturation, price collapse, and farm failures.

Guess what happened this year?

That’s right: a domestic price collapse, resulting in some farmers going broke or ceasing production.

As domestic supply exceeds demand, exports become even more important. But in an international market that can itself become saturated, cost pressures will only increase.

What does that mean for responsible farming practices? What we said earlier:

Safe, responsible farms might not be economically viable.

Why?

Buffer zones reduce the yield per acre.

Some farms are so close to residential areas they shouldn’t even be operating.

Putting in place physical solutions to retain chemical wash-off can significantly increase capital expenditure.

Safe farms are possible. They just cost more.

That leaves us with an alarming thought: in a maturing, saturated market with wafer-thin margins many farms might already be considered economically unviable if community safety was properly factored in.

In this scenario, we’d imagine Gurmesh Singh as OzGroup chairman would publicly resist all forms of meaningful regulation to protect the economic viability of cooperative members at all costs. Has he?

That’s something we’re going to review very soon, and you should too.

Because he and all the other stakeholders knew about this years ago:

Read the full report here, and if you’re fed up with this nonsense:

CALL TO ACTION. A community protest is happening this Tuesday 19th March at 12:30pm in Coffs. Check Facebook for more details.

Originally published at Protect Coffs Water. Monday 18 March 2019.

See:https://www.protectcoffswater.org/they-knew-years-ago-government-report-reveals-business-risks-of-community-awareness

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