WATER access issues for citrus growers in the Murray-Darling Basin under the government’s new water management plan is expected to be one of the key issues for an upcoming Federal Senate inquiry.
The Coalition is looking to gain approval for a broad ranging inquiry into the Australian citrus industry in parliament’s final sitting week for 2012.
The inquiry’s terms of reference are still being finalised but Tasmanian Liberal Senator and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture Richard Colbeck said he expected a thorough examination of the new water management regulations and their impacts on the citrus industry.
Senator Colbeck said the new Senate inquiry would take a broad ranging look at the national citrus industry in an effort to identify potentially constructive solutions to any new or recurring problems.
He said the Australian citrus industry was “a little fragmented” and faced ongoing issues with market access and price fluctuations.
Market access is also an issue facing other horticultural and agricultural products and was highlighted during the Senate’s food processing inquiry that he chaired this year.
“We’re not going to look into the citrus industry with any particular agenda but it will provide a fresh set of eyes and take a really good look at some of the recurring issues,” he said.
“We hear these annual stories about products like oranges being tragically wasted, left unpicked on trees or on the ground, so hopefully we can come up with some constructive suggestions and solutions.”
Biosecurity management and the value and allocation of R&D spending for the citrus industry will also be placed under the microscope.
Senator Colbeck said if the Senate inquiry was formally approved this week, it would start taking public submissions and consider public hearings in key citrus growing regions early next year like the South Australian Riverland, QLD and the NSW Riverina.
He said industry groups like Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL) supported the move and are concerned about future water supplies under the new water regulations, but are also looking to improve water use efficiencies on-farm.
Earlier this month, Nationals Riverina MP Michael McCormack spoke in the House of Representatives about some of the challenges facing the citrus industry in his electorate, saying “costs are killing our growers”.
Earlier this year the high Australian dollar was blamed for radically reducing profits and forcing much of the region’s bumper crop to be dumped after remaining unsold.
Mr McCormack said the situation was “tragic” with fruit growers throughout the Riverina pulling out trees, dumping oranges into paddocks and then churning them into the ground.
He said Australia grows 500,000 tonnes of citrus and imports between 500,000 and 600,000 in equivalent tonnes of concentrate orange juice, depending on the season.
In an average year, with a favourable dollar, we have been able to export up to 130,000 tonnes of citrus mainly to America and Asia, he said.