Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Growers hold hopes for SPC Ardmona

As peaches were being picked across the Goulburn Valley last week, growers were hit with the news of the Federal Government’s refusal to help SPC Ardmona.

LAURA GRIFFIN February 4, 2014 4:10am

Fruit picking goes on in the Valley.

As peaches were being picked across the Goulburn Valley last week, growers were hit with the news of the Federal Government’s refusal to help SPC Ardmona.

Victorian Peach and Apricot Growers Association members were disappointed by the announcement, but were not giving up hope that the cannery would continue.

Association president and Cobram orchardist Tony Latina said he was not panicking ‘‘just yet’’.

‘‘There’s no final decision yet which way SPC Ardmona will go, whether they will continue as a fruit processor,’’ Mr Latina said.

‘‘If they do close, a lot more trees will have to be pulled and people who grow solely cannery varieties, well, that will be the nail in their business’ coffin.’’

He said there was little chance for canning peaches to be sold as fresh fruit.

He is still holding on to the hope the Victorian Government would provide some funding and urged it to act quickly to provide some security.

‘‘Growers need certainty and there has been no certainty in the last eight months.’’

Mr Latina was one of the orchardists whose fruit supply quota was cut by SPC Ardmona. He scaled down his 26ha property to about 15ha of stone fruit.

‘‘But when the supermarkets said they would take more Australian processed fruit, SPC Ardmona asked us to supply some fruit, but it was too late — we’d already removed the trees.’’

Association vice-president Doug Brown said many northern Victorian growers had pulled out blocks even if they retained contracts with SPC Ardmona because they did not want to take the risk of putting so much money into a crop given the uncertainty of the cannery’s future.

Production of peaches this season is down from last year because of poor weather conditions during flowering, so Mr Brown is concerned his Invergordon orchard might not produce enough to fill the quota.

‘‘We could take those ups and downs if there was more support for Australian agriculture,’’ he said.

‘‘Growing fruit is a long-term commitment and I’ve spoken to field officers at SPC Ardmona to say there are expenditure and decisions to be made to supply next year, but to some extent they are in a similar position with factory upgrades hanging in the balance because announcements have been so long coming.’’

Mr Brown said there was discord between the Federal Government’s talk of the Australia being Asia’s food bowl and promoting free-trade deals and the decision to not make the co-investment.

‘‘It seems it was an in-principle decision about not supporting corporations, as opposed to a financial decision to co-invest,’’ he said.

Both growers said the fact the cannery was in a safe seat possibly played a part but agreed local representatives at state and federal level had campaigned well.

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