The pace of change taking place on the mid North Coast in regards to blueberry development has resulted in local government attempting to police policy on what has traditionally been regulation-free farming land.
Bellingen Shire Council, dominated by a Green alliance, has voted to demand development application (DA) from emerging blueberry farms on rural land. The position has yet to be approved by state government.
Last week Nambucca shire followed suit, acting on a recommendation from its planning staff to apply the DA requirement to all intensive agriculture, unless it is organically produced or if it lies 200 meters away from residential housing.
A rescission motion has been lodged against the narrow vote.
Never-the-less this issue of farming rights on high value coastal land is a concern for primary producers, with the chairman of Woolgoolga-based blueberry co-operative Oz Group Gurmesh Singh, saying the move would reduce land value and make small scale blueberry farming uneconomic as the paperwork and studies involved in cost of the DA may outweigh the return and most blocks are too small to work under a 200m buffer arrangement.
Macadamia grower Christopher Cook, ‘Arapala’ Yarrahappini agreed, saying such an enormous buffer would make the farm he manages, on behalf of the Dymock family, ‘unworkable’.
“I employee up to 30 people, with a core staff of 17 people all year round,” he said in a letter to the council ahead of last week’s vote. “Our total payroll last year was $733,000. That is going directly into the local community. I spent a further $1.4 million running my farms, all within the local community.”
Spray-free macadamia farmer Cr Susan Jenvey, Valla, voted in favour of the Nambucca motion saying coastal councils had to embrace new residents who bought land carved out of existing farms.
“In our newspapers the number one cause of conflict in the Coffs Harbour, Bellingen and Nambucca council areas is the rapid expansion of intensive agriculture,” she said. “Good farm planning can eliminate conflict with neighbours. Farming and residential need to live together.
“Council’s motion will enable a conversation to take place,” said the second generation macadamia grower who found spray-free production resulted in a nut loss of 5 – 7 per cent, which was ‘the same’ as when she sprayed for fruit spotting bug. “I enjoy a spray free environment.”