$3.5m for orchardists

Wilgro’s Ralph Wilson in January with his fire-damaged orchards at Batlow.

A $3.5 million support package for the apple growing industry will be used to clean-up apple orchards in Batlow and Bilpin which were severely damaged in the recent bushfires.

The state government package will cover the cost of removing dangerous trees and damaged protective netting and posts from apple orchards in the towns of Batlow in the Riverina region and Bilpin in the Hawkesbury region.

Batlow orchardist Ralph Wilson of Wilgrow Orchards has welcomed the announcement, and hopes that the funds will begin flowing sooner rather than later.

“To replace netting and replace trees is a very very expensive operation these days, so any help we can get from government will certainly be welcome,” Mr Wilson said.

He said that if the government is going to provide funding, it needs to “come straight away and be accessed straight away.”

The longer that it takes orchardists to work through their clean up, the further it sets them back in terms of being able to regrow and plan for future harvests.

Mr Wilson has already started clean up efforts on his property, including putting up new posts, straining up wire to get through the orchard, and pulling out burnt irrigation pipes and replacing them.

“We’re in picking time now, so its very hard to do picking and to do clean up,” he said.

“It’s all very well to make announcements about money, but the money’s got to flow.”

As for if $3.5 million will be enough to cover the clean up of orchards across both Batlow and Bilpin, Mr Wilson said it could be, but it’s very hard to say.

Deputy Premier and Minister responsible for Disaster Recovery John Barilaro said both Batlow and Bilpin were severely damaged in the recent bushfires which has left large hazardous trees and debris on apple orchards across the regions.

“The Batlow orchards and processing facilities are a major local employer and tourist attraction for the district with events such as the annual Batlow CiderFest and Batlow Apple Blossom Festival,” Mr Barilaro said.

“Bilpin is a significant fruit production and tourism area with local businesses opening their apple orchards to the general public and allowing hundreds of city-based families to experience active food production.

“Apple production alone contributes $30 million each year to the local economy.

“Without this clean-up, workers can’t return to orchards and undertake the essential work needed to help the apple trees recover from the fire. We will hire local contractors to assess and remove hazardous trees that may be a threat to safety.

“I want to see these important Australian businesses return to full production as soon as possible and we will continue to work with a range of primary industries that have been impacted.”

Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall said covering the cost of clean-up was just one thing the Government could do to help horticulturalists get back on their feet.

“We know apple and pear growers have been dealt a massive blow by the fires and it will take more than five years before they return to normal production,” Mr Marshall said.

“Covering the cost of clean-up means the recovery process can start sooner and there will be one less burden for affected primary producers to worry about.”

The NSW Department of Primary Industries will be contacting local orchardists to arrange for the clean-up.

The NSW Government has committed $1 billion over the next two years to rebuild infrastructure in bushfire-affected communities and is coordinating the clean-up of eligible residential and commercial buildings destroyed by bushfires at no cost to residents or businesses.