NQ hort battered, not broken after floods

NQ hort carries on after major floods


Horticulture
WET: Watermelons that have been underwater on the Caleo family's farm at Charters Towers.

WET: Watermelons that have been underwater on the Caleo family's farm at Charters Towers.

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Horticulture has fared surprisingly well considering the extent of the north Qld floods.

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WHILE horticulture did not escape unscathed from the historic North Queensland flooding earlier this month, it could have been worse for many produce lines.

Major commodity groups have reported surprisingly minimal damage to their growers' farms with transportation delays at the flood's peak being the biggest hurdle.

Growcom welcomed the activation of special disaster assistance recovery grants for primary producers affected by flooding in Queensland’s north, including the increase in disaster assistance from $25,000 to $75,000. 

Growcom chief executive officer, David Thomson, said horticultural growing regions in Queensland’s north had been hit. 

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“While the full extent of damage will not be quantified for some time, we’ve had reports of significant crop and property damage in areas such as Rollingstone, Home Hill, Giru, Inkerman and Bowen,” Mr Thomson said. 

“Our members are also reporting issues with soil erosion, loss of top soil and planting may be delayed in some areas.

“We also recommend growers take photographs of all major infrastructure, equipment and crops for insurance purposes and to help with the application process for disaster assistance. 

“We understand the recovery process can be a long one and our thoughts are with everyone impacted.” 

Melons

ONE of the harder hit growers was Charters Towers and Black River watermelon grower, Jon Caleo, who watched an estimated 800 tonnes of produce go under water, rendering the crop useless.

Mr Caleo said his farms were 17mm off receiving 2m of rain.

He said he lost about eight weeks of production at a time when watermelons were bringing the best prices in the past 18 months.  

"We can't even get onto the property it's that wet," Mr Caleo told Good Fruit & Vegetables last week.

In an added blow, watermelon plants in his seedling nursery will be discarded because of the prolonged period without sunlight, rendering them "stretched" and lacking the vigour to be planted out.

DOWN: Jon Caleo said he lost about eight weeks of production at a time when watermelons were bringing the best prices in the past 18 months.

DOWN: Jon Caleo said he lost about eight weeks of production at a time when watermelons were bringing the best prices in the past 18 months.

The wet also brought on an infestation of caterpillars to the family's asparagus crop which added to the headache.

It's been a rough few years for the Caleo family. In 2014, Mr Caleo's son, Anthony, suffered extensive burns in a farming accident, then in 2015 the farms were hit with cucumber green mottle mosaic virus (CGMMV).

"I'm a bit used to it by now. I'm hoping these things only come in threes," he said.  

But the family is already back planting on a section of one of their farms at Sellheim, just east of Charters Towers.

"If you weren't an optimist you wouldn't be a farmer," Mr Caleo said.

"People in the cities don't realise what farmers do to put food on their tables."

Mangoes

WITH North Qld's mango production in the closing stages of the season, the flooding did not savagely affect production.

Australian Mango Industry Association chief executive officer, Robert Grey, said damage to orchards was minimal across the Mareeba/Dimbulah area, and further south around Burdekin and Bowen, with delayed transport being the biggest concern.   

"The wet weather caused some farms to stop picking for a week but that was about it," Mr Grey said.

"On the positive side, Lake Tinaroo is full."

Avocados

AVOCADOS Australia chairman and Atherton grower, Jim Kochi described the major weather event as doing a "tango around" his district although Mareeba growers further north copped plenty of rain.

"They are still suffering up there from sodden soils mostly," he said.

"They all started picking but it just got too wet so they pulled up."

The two major concerns for affected growers will be waterlogged trees and the increased potential for phytophthora development.

Anything that cuts our roadways just severs the artery into North Qld. - Jim Kochi

"You need to be able to work within the soil conditions you have. Avocados are like real estate - location, location, location," Mr Kochi said.

"They would be one of the most temperamental tree crops we grow in Australia."

Like mangoes, the biggest set-back for the avocado industry was the transportation issue.

"Anything that cuts our roadways just severs the artery into North Qld," Mr Kochi said.

But he said as avocados don't ripen on the tree, growers were simply able to make the call to leave the crop on the trees until paddocks became accessible.

He said staggering the picking made sense as growers could then control the flow to the market.

Mr Kochi said the Shepard variety would be coming on in the next few weeks, followed then by the Hass variety in April.

Vegetables

VEGETABLE buyers may see the flow-on effects of the flooding event in about 12 - 24 months time but they won't be as severe as previously experienced with cyclones of recent years, according to the industry body.  

An Ausveg spokesman said assessments were still being carried out on the full damage to farms in the major vegetable production areas of Bowen, Ayr, Home Hill, Giru, Gumlu and further up on the Atherton Tableland area but so far reports were of no major crop losses.

Ausveg said one of the saving graces for many of the farms was that they hadn't planted up winter crops as yet.

Bananas

BANANA growers flagged exterior fruit quality concerns in the wake of the North Qld flooding event, indicating a possible disruption to the supply flow.

But the industry has gone on the front foot assuring buyers that fruit inside is the same and unaffected.

Australian Banana Growers’ Council chair, Stephen Lowe, said continuing wet weather in the coastal growing areas may mean that minor superficial external damage to fruit could occur.

"There might be minor cosmetic damage due to the prolonged wet weather," Mr Lowe said.

"The bananas might have some marks on the skin. They may not be as bright yellow as normal but ultimately the product still should taste the same inside."

He said a shortage of supply may also result in a slight rise in prices, however this was also expected to be short-lived.

"The prolonged wet weather has not allowed the fruit to mature at its normal rate. It’s been hanging there waiting for the sun to come out," he said.

"I guess it’s put a hiccup in the system. But it’s come off a period where supply was low before this event anyway.

"The really hot weather we experienced in November/December affected bunch emergence.

"There was not a lot of fruit out there to start with and I think everyone was expected a fairly light February even before the flooding."

WASH-OUT: Pineapples were uprooted and left sodden on Stephen Pace's Rollingstone farm. Photo: Pace Farming.

WASH-OUT: Pineapples were uprooted and left sodden on Stephen Pace's Rollingstone farm. Photo: Pace Farming.

Pineapples

ROLLINGSTONE pineapple grower and Australian Pineapple Growers chairman, Stephen Pace reported that about 40,000 plants were completely washed away from his farm during the floods.

“We lost probably 30,000 to 40,000 plants that have been completely washed away,” Mr Pace said.

“Having said that it was only 5 per cent of the crop, so it’s not huge but we plant them for a reason – and that’s for them to be eaten.

“What hasn’t washed away there will be a lot of debris. The pineapple is a pretty resilient plant, so once we scrape that off they should grow again.

“Water logging is a bit of a worry, it’s really just a waiting game.”

He said they would start harvesting small volumes in March before the season slowly picks up.

“One bonus is that we finished our main crop in early January, so we’re not really harvesting fruit at the moment,” he said. 

  • Further information on disaster declarations and available assistance can be found via the Queensland Farmers’ Federation Farmer Disaster Support websitewww.farmerdisastersupport.org.au  
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