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Thursday, 18 June 2009
Page: 6605

Mr NEVILLE (9:34 AM) —One thing Australians enjoy, perhaps more than any other nation on earth, is affordable, high-quality fresh produce. But that might be at risk, subjecting Australians to higher food prices and imports. Queensland’s $1.2 billion fruit industry is at risk. Last September, the Queensland Labor government scrapped damage mitigation permits which allowed orchardists to protect crops by shooting raiding flying foxes. Now farmers must use non-lethal methods to keep flying foxes off their crops, using scaring devices such as bird fright and spotlights. Another method is netting, which is prohibitively expensive and can cost up to $40,000 per hectare. The Stanthorpe fruit-growing district reported losses of up to 25 per cent in the last stone fruit season.

Conservation groups say that shooting flying foxes is inhumane, while farmers quite rightly say they have the right to make a living. Farmers do not want to indiscriminately kill hundreds of animals. Rather they have found that shooting the scouts, which source food supplies and lead the colony back to the orchard, is more effective. A flying fox colony can number in the thousands and can block out the sky—a very scary sight for orchardists. One of my local farmers, Allan Badrick, recently lost half of his lychee crop because he could not shoot the scout flying foxes. Another, John Kajewski, lost 35 per cent of his crop. The Badrick orchard of 1,600 lychee trees is partly covered by permanent gantry netting, and this mitigation control was such that he lost only five to 15 per cent of his crop. But this year, being unable to shoot scouts, he lost the entire unprotected lychee crops, with between 10 and 15 tonnes of fruit being unusable. In his own words, he said:

Because I could not disturb them, their numbers increased nightly to the point that there were literally thousands of them when the fruit was fully ripe—it took less than a week to destroy my year’s of hard work and costs.

This farmer is trying to do the right thing. He has tried Bird Frite shells, high wattage lighting, netting, sound guns, but none of them is as effective as culling the scouts. Let me be perfectly clear: as a general rule I dislike culling, but common sense must prevail where sensible preventative measures can be used. Farmers are common sense people; they are innovative and proactive, and those who can afford to net do so. It is time the Queensland government balanced farmers’ rights, community interests, the environment and, above all, common sense.