Transport, heat concerns hinder hort recovery


HOT conditions could further damage waterlogged vegetable crops throughout Queensland even after flood waters drop.

HOT conditions could further damage waterlogged vegetable crops throughout Queensland even after flood waters drop.


Vegetable, fruit and nut growers up and down Queensland have felt the brutality of nature in the past week, with some not fully recovered from flooding two years ago.

Some of the commodities currently in season throughout the state impacted include lychees, mangoes, watermelons, sweet potatoes and citrus.

Other commodities expected to suffer from the extended wet include tomatoes, avocados, citrus, beans, capsicum, eggplant, passionfruit and bananas.

Clear blue skies and sizzling summer weather greeted rescue and recovery workers on the Tuesday morning.

The fine weather could bring its own problems with crops sitting in water being warmed by intense sunshine.

Growcom CEO Alex Livingstone said from initial grower correspondence on Monday and Tuesday, crop damage is not as widespread as 2011 but those impacted had been hit hard, in some cases worse than two years ago.

"It's not as bad as it could have been," Mr Livingstone said.

"A lot of the producers are effectively having a day off because they can't get out anywhere so they are just trying to assess the damage as the waters subside."

Mr Livingstone said it would be some time before proper assessments could be done.

Mr Livingstone said damage bills across the state were likely to be in the millions of dollars before production could return to normal in some of the hardest hit areas.

On the Friday before the deluge and rising river, Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers executive officer Peter Hockings welcomed the rainfall.

But he cautioned that too much wet weather impeded harvesting, could lead to fruit splitting, fungal and root disease issues and cause marketable fruit to rot.

"While growers are unable to get into fields to harvest or protect crops from disease, this excessively high rainfall could result in lengthy road closures meaning harvested produce may not make it to market in a timely manner."

Prices for certain fruit and vegetables in short supply were expected to rise.

Mr Hockings warned the higher prices would not translate into big profits for growers.

"Don't think growers are the winners when the price is high. Although prices may rise in the supermarkets, less produce is sold to recoup the costs of months of hard work and expenditure," he said.

Upon hearing of the coming rainfall, the Brisbane Markets at Rocklea prepared for the worst, having suffered major flooding in 2010-11.

But despite some wholesalers and businesses evacuating, flood waters did not reach expected levels and limited trade continued this week.

Brisbane Markets Limited CEO Andrew Young said the extent of the impact was not yet known and ultimately was likely to be reduced by adjustments in other growing regions and elsewhere in the supply chain, which tended to reduce the severity of shortages of supply.

"What we do know is that all parties in the supply chain will work hard to recover from the impact of this natural disaster and maintain the supply of fresh produce," he said

The Bruce Highway remained cut in several places earlier this week, preventing fresh produce moving south.

The wheels of major horticulture transporter Lindsay Australia ground to a halt from its Bundaberg depot.

A spokesman said on Tuesday that transport was currently non-existent with Gympie being the major concern for southern-bound produce.

Despite 28 hours without electricity, Lindsay Australia's power was restored, putting its major coolrooms back in action, storing any fruits or vegetables already on hand.

But adding to the company's frustration was the fact that most of its customers are on the northern side of Bundaberg, which remained cut-off.

Mr Livingstone said transport was in a "delicate condition".

"We've just got to wait for the waters to come down and then look at what are the priorities," he said.

Australian Macadamia Society CEO Jolyon Burnett said reports from nut growers in the Bundaberg region painted a grim picture with up to 1000 trees damaged and estimates of 10-15 per cent in crop losses.

Nut losses from wind and rain, plus soil erosion were are other factors.

It's bad news for the industry which had hoped to rebuild production after the 2010/2011 floods.

Mr Burnett said the predicted 40,000 tonne output would now have to be dramatically revised, perhaps down by 5000t.

Young plantings of sweet potato remain waterlogged. A grower said harvesting would continue, albeit slower than usual, but getting the product to market was the next headache.

The emotional impact may take time to hit with some growers set to re-live bad memories.

"That's one of the things that tends not to hit today but in a week or two as people come to grips with how much work there is to be done and all those sorts of things, it gets very, very difficult for people," he said.

The story Transport, heat concerns hinder hort recovery first appeared on Queensland Country Life.


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