The protest outside Sandy Beach School on Wednesday morning.
The protest outside Sandy Beach School on Wednesday morning. TREVOR VEALE

Farmer says protesters are 'always picking on us'

AN angry blueberry farmer fronted a rally outside the Sandy Beach Public School on Wednesday.

"It looks like you are picking on this farm - this farm has been here for 20 years," said Iqbal Singh who arrived at the demonstration with his son.

Parents protest over farms: Members of school community call on authorities to test schoolyard for chemical spray drift.

He was a banana farmer for many years and now grows blueberries and cucumbers.

"They are always picking on us and they're still doing it."

Secretary of the United Residents Group of Emerald (URGE) Karla Gillies has two children at the school and organised the rally after a number of parents expressed concern about the proximity of the farm directly across from the school.

"And this is particularly so because of new scientific evidence from Southern Cross University, which shows that some farms are polluting beyond their boundaries," Ms Gillies said. 

"So we just want assurance. We don't even know if it is safe, or if it is an issue at the moment.

"We want the experts here to do the testing and that's the point - there just hasn't been any testing done here.

"I don't think the Department of Education or the school are fulfilling their duty of care."

Young children at the protest wore face masks and held signs. One read: Stop Poisoning our kids, pets and lakes.

Nine-year-old Sam says the smell of chemicals can sometimes put him off his lunch.

"I just stop eating because it's kind of off-putting," he said. 

Eight-year-old Lila is concerned for any future impacts.

"I wonder if in five years I am going to be sick," she said.

 

blueberry chemicals protest outside Sandy Beach School. 13  MAR  2018
Farmer Iqbal Singh with his son. TREVOR VEALE

Ms Gillies said she believes there needs to be much tougher regulations that involve regular site inspections to make sure farmers are doing the right thing and Mr Singh welcomes tougher regulations.

"Yes, no problem. We are doing the right thing, we don't have to worry about anything," Mr Singh said.

In recent weeks some parents have considered taking their children out of the school.

Matt Moffatt was at the protest and he currently has one child in year one and another due to start next year.

"I want to give the school a chance to resolve the situation and we love this school," Mr Moffatt said.

A number of candidates in the March 23 state election were also there including Jonathan Cassell from The Greens.

"The community is waking up to the issue. It's a much bigger problem than just one farm," Mr Cassell said.

Independent candidate Sally Townley says that in other states, there are much tougher regulations in relation to spraying near schools

An aerial of Sandy Beach showing the extent of intensive farming around the school.
An aerial of Sandy Beach showing the extent of intensive farming around the school. Google Earth

"NSW is lacking - surely it's reasonable for NSW to expect the same level of protection as in Victoria," Dr Townley said.

Labor candidate Tony Judge also spoke about the need for more regulation to keep school students safe.

"The problem is not that we know that any particular blueberry farm is not safe. The problem is that we don't have enough regulation and compliance to be comfortable that it is safe. We need to fix that," Mr Judge said. 

"A couple of brave blueberry farmers turned up here today to argue for their industry. But where is The Nationals candidate and chair of Ozgroup blueberry Co-op (Gurmesh Singh). He should be here," he said.