More assistance needed for hail-affected growers

17 Nov 2021
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Mayo MP Rebekha Sharkie says the State and Federal Governments need to provide more assistance for fruit growers seeking to sign up to the $7.3 million netting scheme the local Federal Member secured for Adelaide Hills horticulturalists back in 2019.

Rebekha's call comes after visiting orchardists in the Adelaide Hills in the wake of the damaging hailstorm that ravaged the northern areas of the Hills and other parts of the State in October.

The growers suggested a range of measures to make the current netting scheme, administered through the Department for Primary Industries and Regions (PIRSA), more accessible and affordable.

"The Federal and State Disaster Assistance announced late last week for clean-up and counselling is welcome but we need to do more to help those growers devastated by yet another year of hail damage who simply won't have the financial capacity to access the remaining $3 million in the scheme," Rebekha said.

"I know from my recent discussions with growers and industry groups that we need urgent additional support so they can afford to pick what viable fruit is left in the orchards and they need assistance, perhaps in the form of industry loans or some other measure, so they can get nets installed for future seasons.

"Growers also wanted greater flexibility in the scheme's criteria and administration to overcome delays and cashflow issues.

"Centre Alliance's netting scheme has worked for those growers who had the capital and the cash flow to access the dollar-for-dollar grant program and managed to find the installers to get the nets up in time. They were largely spared from the worst of the hail.

"Netting is expensive. It can cost up to $60,000 a hectare to install and successive years of weather damage and tight margins have made it hard for growers to find the money.

"There was also the extra pressure of finding suitable installers, particularly with COVID border restrictions.

"It's heartbreaking for those growers who had nets lying on the ground."

PIRSA has been administering $14.6 million in Horticultural Netting Infrastructure Grants from the Commonwealth.

To date, Hills growers have accessed around $4 million of the $7.3 million available for netting in their designated area.

Under present criteria, eligible growers can claim up to 50 per cent of the costs associated with horticulture netting, up to a maximum of $300,000.

Rebekha advocated the Federal Government for the $7.3 million scheme following the 2019 election after the Hills had endured two successive seasons of devastating hail damage at critical stages of the growing season for apples, pears and cherries.

The Government elected to expand the scheme to the Riverland with an extra $7.3 million. Riverland growers have accessed around $3.8 million of the $7.3 million set aside for their region.

“There is a high degree of scientific certainty that Mayo will face more severe storms in the future and climatic pressures are also displacing bird populations, leading to increased damage in our horticultural regions so we need to prepare,” Rebekha said.

Photo: Tony Hannaford from Torrens Valley Orchards shows Rebekha Sharkie MP cherries protected by netting at Gumeracha.

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