Oz Berries Co-operative chairman Gurmesh Singh.
Oz Berries Co-operative chairman Gurmesh Singh. Keagan Elder

Is there too much red tape for our blueberry industry?

BLUEBERRY farmer Gurmesh Singh says the industry is 'regulated heavily' and that farmers have acknowledged practices can be improved.

Mr Singh is the chairman of the Oz Group Co-op, a 100 per cent farmer owned co-operative which facilitates the packing and distribution of berries grown in and around the Coffs Coast.

He says that like all types of farming, blueberry farming is regulated heavily by various local, state, and federal agencies and authorities and that the Co-op has developed a strategy to clearly focus on the long term sustainability of the industry.

A number of initiatives have been adopted by the Co-op including the employment of an experienced CEO (former CEO of Norco Co-operative); employing more agronomists to work with farmers; and filling the newly created role of field officer to work specifically with farmers on compliance, standards and training/development.

In relation to the Charles Sturt University studies commissioned by Coffs Harbour City Council, he claims that some nutrients run-off had occurred after a major rain event and the two farms that had the runoff were identified and owners are working to reduce the levels of fertiliser applied.

He says the Hearnes Lake study is a lot more complicated due to the completely mixed used of the catchment and posted this on the Woolgoolga and Northern Beaches - what's happening Facebook page:

There are blueberries, bananas, commercial nurseries, vegetable agriculture, and hundreds of new homes and a caravan park. However, the report also indicates that the levels of nutrients in the creek are comparable to other similar catchments on the East Coast of Australia. The issue of nutrient run-off is an issue right up and down the coast whether its beef cattle, dairy, macadamia's, banana's, sugar cane, or blueberries (or residential houses). However, farmers are on the front foot - working with the government agencies to reduce our environmental footprint as quickly and effectively as possible.

Blueberry farmers have acknowledged that practices can be improved and since the Bucca Creek study have been working with the researchers in actually fixing the problem instead of just throwing politically loaded statements around the press. Given that there is both a state and federal election looming in the next 6 months you would have to wonder why there is so much desperation in creating controversy right now instead of giving blueberry growers a chance to address the issues.

Most of the blueberry farmers in the region are relatively young compared to the national average - we want to be living and farming in this area long into the future - and that means doing it sustainably. We're trying to do better - and all we ask for is a fair go from the community.

List of Regulations (not the full list)

1. Water - - amount of water, type of licence, licence conditions etc regulated by WaterNSW. Dams can be also regulated by council DA's in some circumstances.

2. Land Clearing - regulated by Office of Environment and Heritage. In some circumstances, councils can have some control of zoning etc here as well.

3. Pesticides - use is regulated by the EPA. Pesticide registration (rates of application etc) is done by the APVMA.

4. Labour Conditions - regulated by Fair Work, SafeWork NSW, and the Department of Home Affairs.

5. Zoning - regulated by council.

6. Food Safety - audited by Freshcare - HARPS and SEDEX for some growers as well.

7. Biosecurity - regulated by the Department of Primary Industries

8. Plant Varieties - these can be regulated by IP Australia.

If any concerned citizens have any further genuine questions, please PM me and I will try to answer them.