Alex Smith, Executive Director of ABGA, at Sandy Beach.
Alex Smith, Executive Director of ABGA, at Sandy Beach. Jasmine Minhas

Blueberry growers call for patience

THE head of the Australian Blueberry Growers' Association has asked the community to consider the region's 'hundreds' of farming families in the face of recent backlash, saying it was 'complete nonsense' blueberry farmers would knowingly dump chemicals into rivers.

"There are several issues we are endeavouring to address but it's going to take some time to get the practices right," Alex Smith said.

"There's going to be a lot of education coming up so growers can understand what is best farming practice. Right now we can't really expect them to be doing it, simply because they don't know how.

"Frankly, I don't think any of it is deliberate. It's nonsense to think a farmer would deliberately endanger their own livelihood."

Earlier this month, results from a Southern Cross University study found highly elevated levels of nutrients flowing into Hearnes Lake from nearby blueberry farms.

"The biggest priority for us at the moment in this part of the world is water - bioreactors are one way of handling that. We're hoping to see the expected result of a significant reduction in nitrate runoff."

Mr Smith admitted that while a majority of farmers are willing to follow best practice, there were some who weren't. He called for greater legal actions against these farmers.

"Let's be clear - there are some idiots out there who don't care. I would call on Federal, State and councils to enforce regulations on these people and fine them. Start introducing make good clauses.

"We're not here to defend people who blatantly break the rules, but 90% of growers are looking for best practice and that's what this is all about.

"These are not people who came in last week, these are people who have been here for three of four generations. Right here in Woolgoolga is the centre of the blueberry growing world. This is 30 years of work and $270m of farm gate value comes through here every year.

"I want to ask the community to take a step back and realise who we're talking about. We're not talking about big corporation, we're talking about 300 or so families who grow berries.

"Now all of a sudden people are throwing rocks at them."

Mr Smith made the comments during a visit to a Sandy Beach blueberry farm on Thursday, where he congratulated Local Land Services and the NSW Government on a new bioreactor trial.

There are hopes the wood chip bioreactor, which is used in North America and Queensland, would see a significant reduction in nitrate runoff from blueberry farms.

The trial, conducted by North Coast Local Land Services and funded by the Federal Governemnt's National Landcare Program, is just one of a series of initiatives ABGA is interested in to reduce nutrient runoff into local waterways.