Apple industry welcomes funding

Batlow apple grower Ralph Wilson pictured in the week after the bushfire hit his orchard.

The apple industry has welcomed the NSW Government’s announcement of funding to support growers and their communities rebuild following the devastating summer fires.

The NSW Government’s Bushfire Industry Recovery Package, provides grants of up to $120,000 per hectare for impacted apple growers to meet the costs of clean up and replacing trees, trellises and netting.

The package also offers Bushfire Sector Development Grants of up to $10 million to support initiatives that include building industry productivity, sustainability and growth.

APAL CEO Phil Turnbull said the NSW Government’s announcement reflected many of the ideas and recommendations put forward by APAL in its ‘Build Back Better: Apple Industry Bushfire Recovery Program’.

“With assistance from our local growers we were able to present a five-year recovery plan to the Federal and State Governments,” said Mr Turnbull.

The Plan confirmed the fires caused more than $70 million damage for the apple industry in Batlow, Bilpin in NSW and the Adelaide Hills in SA. It also proposes a road map to rebuild a stronger and more resilient apple industry in these iconic apple growing regions.

“We know it’s a going to be a long and difficult road to recovery, and this package delivers welcome assistance for these communities as they start this journey.”

“Since the fires we have had access to the highest levels of government including meetings with the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Deputy Premier of NSW and Minister for Agriculture. These discussions have been invaluable to setting out the needs and priorities for growers and the industry in the regions devastated by the summer fires.”

With NSW Government funding secured, APAL is awaiting release of the guidelines for the Federal Government’s recently announced bushfire funding package.

“We encourage the Federal Government to contribute so our industry can complete the five-year recovery plan,” said Mr Turnbull.

Ralph Wilson of Wilgro orchards said that the apple industry, especially in the wake of the devastating bushfires and Covid-19, is “not in a great space at the moment.”

“Some growers are not confident about the future of the industry,” he said.

“Some are older and they face the option of spending money and carrying on or scaling down a slowly retiring.”

However, Mr Wilson believes it’s not time for the apple industry in Batlow to throw in the towel.

“We still need to be growing and supplying good quality apples,” he said.

“Batlow has a good reputation and it would be a shame for that to fade away.”     

He concedes that it will take a few years for the local industry to recover from the severe impact of the Dunns Road fire, but also believes its possible that growers will emerge stronger and more determined.

“Out of adversity people often get stronger,” he said.

“The government has done a reasonably good job at giving money to the industry, so there’s light at the end of the tunnel. It’s not the end of Batlow; I’ll tell you that.”

Mr Wilson finished his apple harvest about a week ago, and as expected, it was down on previous years.

“There was quite a bit of damage from the fires, and production was down 40 per cent,” he said.

“There was quality fruit higher on the trees, but some cracking on the fruit in the lower parts of the trees that were burnt.”

The fire destroyed the cider at the orchard at the time, as well as much infrastructure.

However, the first batch of Wilgro’s own brand of cider went on sale in the shop in the past few days, so this operation is back on track.

“It really takes a long time to get back into things,” Mr Wilson said.