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Low figures for tree scheme

A Victorian Government scheme to remove trees on neglected northern Victorian orchards has resulted in only 15 000 being taken out so far.

GEOFF ADAMS May 20, 2014 3:00am

The biosecurity law was amended about 12 months ago to enable DEPI to move onto neglected or abandoned orchards in the wake of the SPC Ardmona fruit intake cuts.

Some industry figures were concerned growers would not be able to afford to maintain their trees when their income was slashed and the resulting increase in pests and diseases could cause biosecurity risks to viable orchards.

Meanwhile, many growers have taken their own action and paid for removal of mostly peach trees around the Goulburn Valley.

Fruit Growers Victoria general manager John Wilson said a survey would be carried out and the figure could run to several hundred hectares.

When SPC Ardmona first announced its cuts last year the total area of fruit not required was about 750ha.

Mr Wilson said he never believed there would be a big uptake in the government’s tree removal scheme.

‘‘One thing we can’t forget is that the removal of the trees does not necessarily prepare the property for alternative use,’’ he said.

‘‘All they are doing is removing the risk of pest and diseases, not preparing the ground for another crop.’’

DEPI’s strategy and governance in regulation and compliance manager Stuart Holland told Country News the department had negotiated with three growers to remove their trees and a fourth was almost finished.

The cost of tree removal remains with the property until sold, or the owner pays it off.

Most of the 15000 trees were canning peaches and the discussions with the landowners were started and completed in the first few months of this year, Mr Holland said.

He said while DEPI didn’t want to have to pull out trees, he said sometimes action had to be taken.

‘‘Our preference is to see the industry remain viable.

‘‘We don’t want to force someone out of business. We don’t take this issue lightly.

‘‘We are always prepared to talk about options and that’s what we talk about on our first visit.

‘‘There have been some who have said, ‘I will look after it’ — and that’s been done.’’

Mr Holland said SPC Ardmona’s decision to go back to some growers and ask for more fruit after successful marketing campaigns may have been responsible for a pause in the numbers of people expected to seek DEPI intervention.

He said he was quite happy that the level of intervention was on a much smaller scale than anticipated.Fruit fly threat

The biggest pest threat emerging this season was from Queensland fruit fly, Mr Wilson told Country News.

‘‘QFF is now rife,’’ he said, after the DEPI had moved away from controlling the pest in northern Victoria.

He said growers had had to ramp up their management programs to fight the pest.

‘‘Within a couple of seasons people will not be able to grow tomatoes in their backyards of Shepparton because it will be full of fruit fly.’’

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