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WA fruit growers facing threats

 It’s a two-edged sword. On one hand, Western Australia’s fruit growers are in hot water. On the other, water is a hot issue for them. Diane Fry, president of the WA Fruit Growers’ Association (WAFGA), told the organisation’s AGM the local industry was under threat from several directions.

“We must acknowledge that our export markets for apples, pears and stone fruit have declined to the point where we now question if they can ever return to a level which makes export a realistic option for many growers,” she said. “The reality is we’ve largely become domestic market focussed in the past five years.

“However, even that is now threatened, with the New Zealand apple import issue still unresolved and New Zealand nectarines and peaches arriving in WA for the first time last summer,” Fry said. “With our markets now more competitive and discerning, we continue to provide the customer with what they want in terms of appearance, size, taste, quality and value.

“Meanwhile, we must also meet very stringent food safety standards and be able to demonstrate we are environmentally aware, or clean and green if you like, in our production methods. “While the great majority of WA fruit growers operate to such standards, consumers and all levels of government must understand this comes at a cost to growers and may narrow the viability gap for growers between profit and loss.”

Fry said growers sometimes felt they were ‘playing a very serious game but on an uneven playing field’. The ‘hot’ issue of water rights and access was one such example. “In the south-west, surface water use by irrigation is less than that used by urban and industrial users, yet in the latest round of water reform, the WA government insists on user pays for only a small number of users, namely primary producers,” she said.

“Commercial fruit growers are mostly efficient water users, especially those who self supply sources. “These people use the precautionary principle in their water planning and have forward planned and invested in securing water to drought-proof ourselves and to help maintain a supply of fresh fruit to the community.” Fry was speaking after being re-elected unopposed as president.

Members unanimously passed three motions:

• That WAFGA strongly oppose any proposed water resource management charges for self supply water users.

• That WAFGA strongly oppose metering of self supply farm dams.

• That WAFGA strongly oppose separation of land and water titles in relation to self supply farm dams.

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