Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The trouble with blueberries....

An Coffs Harbour man and a Canadian multimillionaire decide to farm water-hungry blueberries in the Clarence Valley.

The Daily Examiner, 3 October 2016, p.12:


Media reports in August of a proposed 850 hectare blueberry development at Bawdens Bridge raise serious issues that add to growing community concerns about the industry.

The application to Water NSW to extract 66ML of water annually from the Orara River indicated the proposed orchard size would be just 30 hectares.

In a meeting with concerned neighbours, the proponent scoffed at rumours they intended to plant as much as 100ha, explaining there just wasn't enough available water.

That comment is supported by the Department of Primary Industry's Primefacts which states: "Water storage facilities of 2-3 megalitres per hectare are required for blueberry production".

Currently there is only 90ML available to the proponent as a harvestable right (collected run-off in dams), plus the 66ML from the river if the licence is approved. So where will the remaining 2000ML come from, and how will it be stored?

Council's director environment, planning and community, Des Schroder, was quoted in the media, describing the partnership between a Coffs Harbour grower and Vancouver businessman Luigi Aquilini, as providing "a multi- national presence in the region", and seemingly in awe of Mr Aquilini describing him as, "a Rupert Murdoch figure in Canadian business circles".

However, as the former manager of the NSW Department of Land and Water Conservation, Mr Schroder should be well aware that, in a drought year, there would be insufficient water in the Orara River to pump at all, much less irrigate 850ha of blueberries.

Proponents engaged in intensive horticulture can legally clear native vegetation, even supposedly protected vegetation, to build massive harvestable rights dams, and can transform the rural landscape into an industrial complex, covered end to end by netting or plastic, without applying for approval, or any need to consult honestly with neighbours.

So the industry needs to do much more to change that perception, and open and transparent consultation would be a good way to start.

John Edwards
Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition


The Land, 19 August 2016:

THE sale of Grafton’s old abattoir to Golden Eagle Berries and its planned conversion to packing and cold store signals a new direction for the Clarence Valley with the business saying it will require 1200 picking jobs by 2018 – as much as the abattoir ever used to employ.

Clarence land previously deemed too poor for agriculture remains very attractive to the industry as blueberry shrubs prefer an acid soil, well draining.

Last year Mr Dosanjh formed a partnership with Vancouver businessman Luigi Aquilini and together they are growing blueberries on 120ha at Clarenza and will develop another 850ha at Waterview Heights.

Mr Dosanjh is both excited and a little frightened of a bright berry future in the valley. There is potential for employment and career paths but high prices are overdue for correction. The new reality will require smart farming.

“Unless we can export blueberries the industry may go the way of bananas,” says Mr Dosanjh.

Fruit fly protocall for markets like Japan remains the greatest obstacle but cold storage at low temperatures will kill fruit fly larvae.

NSW Government Gazette No 21 of 24 March 2016:

An application under section 10 of the Water Act 1912 for a 150 Megalitre dam & 150mm pump on UNNAMED WATERCOURSE has been received from HARJAP SINGH DOSANJH for irrigation and farming purposes (150 megalitres) on Lot 137 DP 751362 Parish Clarenza County Clarence. (30SL067326)
An application under section 10 of the Water Act 1912 for a 150mm pump on ORARA RIVER has been received from DOSANJH INVESTMENTS PTY LTD for irrigation and farming purposes (66 megalitres) on Lot 262 DP 751383 Parish Rushforth County Clarence. (30SL067327)
Objections to the granting of this licence must be registered in writing to Locked Bag 10, Grafton NSW 2460 within 28 days of this notice. The objection must include your name and address and specify the grounds of objection. Any queries please call (02) 6641 6500.
PETER HACKETT Water Regulation Officer. Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Water

There is no gazetted Water Sharing Plan for the Clarence River, with only a Draft Report Card for the Lower Orara River available on the DPI web site, which is now rendered obsolete by the permanent closure of the Nymboida Power Station.

We also learned that the proponent had already begun work on a very large dam on a local creek line known as “Chain of Ponds”, removing some 300m of gully vegetation. Enquiries to Council revealed that, despite the Local Environment Plan clearly indicating the water storages cannot be built on land of that zoning, the proponent can in fact construct a dam big enough to store the property's harvestable rights, without any approval. Those rights, for the 1000 hectare plus property, amount to some 90 megalitres annually.

Because blueberries are highly chemical dependent, there are other matters of concern, particularly the potential for pollution of the Orara River, which runs along the property's boundary. Pollution could impact on threatened species like the endangered Eastern Freshwater Cod, and the unique riparian vegetation community. Dominated by a mix of Black Bean (Castanospermum australe), Silky Oak (Grevillea Robusta) and Satinash (Syzygium floribundum), that community, to the best of our knowledge, only occurs along the lower reaches of the Orara and nowhere else in the world.

Vancouver Sun, 9 September 2013:

a vast family empire that owns the Vancouver Canucks hockey team, development companies, investment and hotel properties, North America’s largest blueberry and cranberry farms, and a lot more. The empire is wrapped up tightly in an extraordinarily complex trust system that Francesco’s father Luigi set up years ago to protect the family assets for his wife Elisa, their three sons Francesco, Roberto and Paolo, and others.

The multinational Aquilini empire outlined here.

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