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Schultz presses Minister on the challenges facing rural industries.



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Schultz presses Minister on the challenges facing rural industries

Friday, 26 May 2006

Member for Hume and Chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Alby Schultz has written to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry on behalf of bee keepers and orchardists who are each facing serious threats to the futures of their industries. In the bee keeping industry, a shortage of educational facilities and skilled workers is threatening to undermine not only the honey bee industry, valued at $65 million and which provides some 1000 jobs, but the entire agricultural sector in Australia. “The sustainability and viability of many agricultural and horticultural industries relies on insect pollination,” Mr Schultz said. “A recent survey stated that 60 per cent of all crops in Australia required insect pollination, the majority of which is performed by industry managed bees.” “However despite the significant contribution bees make to our agricultural sector, the only two bee keeping courses available in Australia were shut down many years ago. If we don’t do something to re-establish adequate training for people in this industry, then we put at risk the viability of not only the honey bee industry but agriculture more widely.” Mr Schultz has recommended the Government investigate options for the development of appropriate research and training facilities to support bee keeping in Australia. “I have asked the Minister to consider the establishment of a Cooperative Research Centre.” Mr Schultz said he had also raised the issue of the grey headed flying fox, which is decimating fruit crops up and down the NSW east coast. “Each year grey headed flying foxes, forced out of their native habitat by urban growth and development, are causing significant damage to valuable fruit crops,” Mr Schultz said. “It is estimated that producers are losing between 10 and 60 per cent of their crops each year as a result of this endangered species, which in the NSW east cost alone equates to losses of some $32 million. “The options currently available to manage these destructive animals are inappropriate, ineffective and outside the financial ability of many growers,” he said.

Mr Schultz, in conjunction with the NSW Farmers’ Association, has put forward several options to address the flying fox problem. “I have suggested that the Australian Government, through the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the Department of Environment and Heritage, should consider a subsidised netting programme and structural adjustment assistance for orchardists,” he said. “It has been estimated that $180 million would be required to net orchards in fruit growing areas of NSW prone to flying foxes, assuming about 30 per cent of orchards have already been netted. “The one-off grants I am suggesting would be for established producers only, not those newly entering the marketplace.” Mr Schultz said his suggestions had already won the support of several Government back benchers and that he hoped the Minister would urgently consider his requests.