Burning Crops


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It's industry going up in smoke. Farmers are setting alight more than 750,000 peach trees because they can no longer compete with cheap foreign imports.

Tony Latina farms peaches in state's fruit bowl -- The Goulburn Valley. Most of it is grown specifically to be canned but local processing factories are downsizing drastically -- so all his produce is worthless. "The cannery was originally taking 32,000 tonnes. The year before last, last year, they told us they needed a reduction of 6,000 tonnes; now the cannery has cut it in half so form 25,000 now they only require 13,000 peaches", Tony said.

The second generation farmer was hoping to pass his farm to son Sebastian. That hope is going up in flames. In the coming weeks 70% of his orchard will be torched and it's a scene that will be repeated right across the Goulburn Valley.

The concern here is this great Australian food bowl will become a dust bowl, a desolate monument to Government inaction. "I've been 40 years growing fruit. Never did I think it would come to this day", Tony said.

The local SPC cannery it's axing half its suppliers. "All of a sudden 530 jobs have been lost immediately -- full time and casuals -- and in the Summer when we are picking fruit, we're looking at 1500 workers less", Tony said.

"13% of farmers have got no way out. 43% of the growers are affected; they are having problems paying their traders, they can't afford to pay them on time", Tony said.

Other fruit and vegetables canneries have closed down or are moving off-shore.
Heinz moved (Girgarrie, northern Vic)
Mccains moved (Smithton, Tas)
Berri moved (Berri, SA)
National foods moved (Simpson & Cobden)
Sunbeam foods closed (Renmark in South Australia's Riverland)
Windsor farms closed (Cowra NSW )
Rosella closed (Seven Hills, NSW)

Another two owned by Simplot in Bathurst and Devonport are under threat.

"We get stone fruit from America, Chile, Peru and apple juice concentrate from China", said Lyn Wilkinson, Chief Executive of Ausbuy.

Mike Badcock is a vegetable farmer in Tasmania where major employer, the Simplot processing plant has been given two months to prove it can be viable. If it closes 300 jobs go and 130 growers will have nowhere to send their peas, beans and carrots. "Farmers don't know where to turn to next", Mike said.

Rocky Mantovani has no idea what he'll do. His family has been supplying peaches to Coca Cola Amatil's SPC cannery for almost 100 years. "Until this time last year they said keep planting, things are looking good. Now they tell us they haven't made any money on a peach tin since 2008, so they knew there was a crisis. Why weren't we told about this earlier", Rocky said.

Its costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to pull out trees, but leaving them in the ground is not an option. "If these trees stay in the ground all of a sudden you end up with diseases, one of the problems we've got lately is fruit fly", Rocky said.

Ausveg spokesman Andrew White says, "In 10-15 years we may live to regret it when we're relying on imported food".

And Lynne Wilkinson is urging all of us too look at the country of origin label and only buy Australian produce. "We are unfortunately doing this to our own people", she said.

And if the government doesn't step in, an entire industry will be lost for good. "We're going to be walking off the land and I think they'll a lot of others doing the same thing", Rocky said.