WHEN stonefruit grower John Pratt, Traprock Orchard, made the difficult decision to remove fruit from his trees to ensure they survived, he put in a call over the largest Sunday morning talkback radio program calling for volunteers to help.
He told the audience that 2019 was proving to be the most challenging his family had experienced in their 35 years of farming.
Traprock Orchard is situated 55 kilometres west of Stanthorpe in Queensland, and has 28,000 stonefruit trees over 40 hectares.
The Pratt family is also hand feeding 4500 sheep while all their cattle are away on agistment at Waroona in the Stonehenge district.
- Rural sector critical of migration policy despite regional focus
- Semmler represents Riverland potential
- Growers and grocers get stonefruit orchard insight
"Due to the relentless drought our irrigation dam is now empty as the last significant run-off was in March 2017," Mr Pratt said.
"We have taken the difficult decision to sacrifice this year's crop in order to give our trees every chance of survival."
Mr Pratt said he was humbled but delighted with the public support after receiving phone calls from people as far away as Innisfail and Adelaide, as well as locals willing to help.
"We ended up with 40 people made up of families with kids as young as nine to retirees - but all of them could handle the manual labour," he said.
"We selected the people that were closest to us and about 40 people travelled from as far as Rockhampton and NSW."
So far 10,500 nectarine and peach trees have been stripped of the fruitlet with more to come.
"It was a very hard decision to make - it was almost impossible to watch the fruit being picked and thrown away - thank goodness for the volunteers," Mr Pratt said.
"We think our plum trees will shed their fruitlets due to the on-going drought.
"We are trying to keep two blocks of three to four year old Blood plum trees that we hope to pick to give us a cash flow - which just represents less than 10 per cent of our expected crop.
"However, if it doesn't rain in the next fortnight, they too will be stripped of fruit.
"We will be looking for further volunteers to come back in a few weeks to make sure all trees have shedded the fruit and help tidy up our orchard."