Riverland stonefruit industry at "fork in the road"

Riverland stonefruit industry at "fork in the road"

Horticulture
DECISION TIME: Waikerie stonefruit grower Kris Werner is considering downsizing or leasing out his water entitlement rather than growing, as the industry continues to be hit by reduced water allocations and prolonged drought.

DECISION TIME: Waikerie stonefruit grower Kris Werner is considering downsizing or leasing out his water entitlement rather than growing, as the industry continues to be hit by reduced water allocations and prolonged drought.

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A SERIES of challenges in the form of high temporary water prices, reduced water allocations and prolonged drought have brought the Riverland stonefruit industry to its knees.

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A SERIES of challenges in the form of high temporary water prices, reduced water allocations and prolonged drought have brought the Riverland stonefruit industry to its knees.

Waikerie stonefruit grower and Dried Tree Fruits Australia chairman Kris Werner said the industry had reached "a fork in the road", with many growers opting out and no incentive for new faces to join the sector.

"We were in a big drive, five years ago, to press new varieties," Mr Werner said.

"Even last year, we released a heap of new varieties that give you better returns for the same work. But if you haven't got the certainty of water nobody's going to get into the industry.

"There's no incentive - apart from maybe avocados and almonds - for anyone to start up. The industry is on its knees at the moment. We've been trying our best to give it CPR but all these challenges keep coming up."

Mr Werner said water continues to be a major issue, with many growers able to earn more from leasing out their entitlement than "doing a hard day's slog".

Related reading: Water market made murkier

On their three-hectare orchard, the Werners grow peaches, pears, apricots, peacharines and nectarines, selling the majority of their produce to wholesalers.

Starting with a 15 per cent allocation this season, Mr Werner said the uncertainty surrounding water availability made it extremely difficulty for them to plan ahead.

"We needed to prune in June, July, August and when you have a 15pc allocation (in May) it's hard to know where to prune to," he said.

"It was early September before we reached a 60pc allocation and that's not enough to carry a full crop.

"We bit the bullet and cut off 200 trees so they won't produce - we'll just keep them alive. That alone is a $10,000 to $15,000 loss in income."

While Mr Werner has not sold any of his water entitlement, others needing to source water from the temporary market have been stung by high prices caused by great demand.

Mr Werner hopes recent drought relief funding from the federal government will be used by councils to provide farmers relief from paying council rates.

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