Horticultural industry pushes for netting program

Horticultural industry pushes for netting program

Horticulture
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On the back of consecutive tough seasons, the apple and pear industry is calling for the federal government to set up a national netting program.

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On the back of consecutive tough seasons, the apple and pear industry is calling for the federal government to set up a national netting program, with the aim of helping orchardists in SA and across the country deal with extreme weather conditions and pest infestations.

The push to have a program established is coming from the Apple and Pear Growers Association of SA, in conjunction with the Cherry Growers Association of SA, Apple and Pear Australia and interstate apple and pear organisations.

APGASA chief executive officer Susie Green said a wide array of issues - including heat and water stress, birds and bats - were affecting orchards across the country, calling for a national approach to help growers.

"Netting isn't necessarily a silver bullet, but it would certainly be a big help towards most of these issues," she said.

"The timing was right to come together at a coordinator front and say 'this is an issue that's impacting on all of industry, and it's a really good opportunity to support all of industry'," Ms Green said.

Ms Green hoped a program would provide growers with grants, loans, subsidies and accelerated depreciation to assist with installation and maintenance costs.

What we're seeing is a widening gap between those who do and don't have nets, those who don't are on the back foot. - SUSIE GREEN

"There's a whole suite of initiatives for investment in drought-proofing in terms of rapid depreciation, so we'd like to see that extended to netting, and potentially see some flexibility in terms of accessing low interest loans, and make sure that they're tailored towards netting," she said.

Only 14 per cent of SA orchards are covered by nets, with Ms Green saying cost was the main barrier.

"What we're seeing is a widening gap between those who do and don't have nets, those who don't are on the back foot," she said.

Ms Green said the first steps had been taken to establish the program.

"We've had conversations with numerous ministers and government departments, and we're also trying to compile data which would support a business case around what we're asking for.

"We're quantifying exactly how many hectares would be netted under this scheme and under what time frame, and what the tangible benefits would be for growers."

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Lenswood apple and pear grower Michael Stafford has had netting infrastructure installed on his property, and he said a subsidy would be helpful to assist with the cost of nets themselves.

"With the pest pressure now, with the birds and the bats, it's going to be very important (to have nets)," Mr Stafford said.

"Every area that's close to a city has to net because of the bird and pest problem."

Mr Stafford said netting posed many benefits in addition to protecting the fruit, including water savings due to a cooler environment underneath the net, as well as shading from sunburn.

I'd hate to think we'd miss out because we'd already started. - JOHN VICKERS

Lenswood grower John Vickers first installed nets in 2008, and he hoped the program would provide benefits for growers who already had netting in place.

About 60pc of Mr Vickers' 30-hectare apple and pear orchard is covered with netting, and in addition to significant installation costs, which he said were $50,000/ha to 90,000/ha and increasing each year, while ongoing maintenance also incurred expenses.

"We have to replace the netting, because the UV has weakened it," he said.

"I would hope the program wouldn't only be for the establishment of new netting, but for the ongoing maintenance and so forth, I'd hate to think we'd miss out because we'd already started."

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