University researchers continue to delve into farm impacts

UNIVERSITY research undertaken at farms in the region continue to document concerning levels of contamination.

Southern Cross University's latest projects investigated the soil chemistry on intensive horticulture sites and in dam sediments; and trace metal transport mechanisms along an intensive horticultural catchment.

They follow on from a study into the horticultural industry and potential implications on the waterways and the Solitary Islands Marine Park (SIMP). This study found large volumes of nitrogen are being carried from farms to waterways.

RELATED: Alarming results prompt calls to reform blueberry industry

The latest studies, also funded by Coffs Harbour City Council through its Environmental Levy,

detected "concerning" levels of the herbicide diuron, trace metals cadmium and mercury, and the nutrient phosphorus.

These were deemed to be of: "high concern based upon their relatively high contents, extensive distributions among our study sites, potential for negative effects on biota, long environmental residence times, and mobility in the terrestrial/aquatic environment".

Terrestrial soils from chemical mixing sheds, crop production areas, drainage areas, and bottom sediments from dams were sampled from three different sites in the local government area. The first two sites were in the Sandy Beach catchment and the third in the Bucca Bucca Creek catchment. All three sites are currently used for blueberry cultivation.

Samples taken at Sandy Beach revealed high levels of arsenic. This site was once used for banana cultivation so this could be a factor but the authors have stressed the findings are very preliminary in nature.

Executive Director of Berries Australia Limited, Rachel Mackenzie has not welcomed the findings describing the University research as a piecemeal approach. She would like to see a more permanent monitoring system established.

Coffs Harbour City Councillor Sally Townley, who has been calling for stronger regulation of the industry, says the studies continue to confirm that environmental and potential health risks are rising.

"The farms at Sandy Beach have had a longer history of horticulture, but the farm at Bucca, fronting directly to Bucca Creek, has only been in operation for a few years. However, it had a wide range of pesticides detected, and was the most contaminated," Dr Townley said.

"At this rate of contamination, what the long term impact will be?"

She says the council's Local Growth Management Strategy chapter on Rural Lands will be an opportunity to take strong action on unregulated rural developments.

A representative from Council explained the studies are just the first step, and that the relevant State government authorities must also step up to address the issue.

"In many cases the studies are preliminary in nature and highlight the need for further research," the spokesperson said.

"Council has written to the state agencies responsible for enforcement and management of these issues asking that they review the reports and assist with appropriate actions under the remit of their department.

"State agencies need to show leadership in ensuring a sustainable long term industry that continues to provide a valuable contribution to the Coffs Harbour economy and community."

The reports can be viewed here.