Unprecedented heat and worsening drought conditions in many growing regions has prompted calls for the annual Apple & Pear Crop Estimate to be downgraded, just weeks after its initial release.
Despite early signs of a bumper apple crop (initially predicted to be up more than 8 per cent on last year by the AgFirst and Apple and Pear Fund estimate), the hottest January ever recorded in the Goulburn Valley, combined with the driest season on record in Stanthorpe, is driving revised estimates down.
A Stanthorpe local her entire life, APAL Director and Manager of P Savio & Co Pty Ltd, Rosie Savio doesn’t remember a harvest season so dry and hot: “In the early-80s we probably went as long without water, but this year we’ve also had to cope with daily temperatures over 35 degrees.”
“A lot of growers in these parts have been trucking water in for their apples for over a month now – vegetable growers even longer. The hardest part is the not knowing when the rains will come,” says Rosie.
In a previous interview with Industry Juice, Michael Crisera, Grower Services Manager at Fruit Growers Victoria explained: “As fruit gets close to harvest, heat stress can be an issue. Once temperatures exceed 36-37 degrees, the stress inhibits the trees’ maturity, which impacts fruit size.”
Reports suggest that growers in heat affected regions will be harvesting smaller fruit and ultimately, that will drive gross tonnes down.
Queensland towns like Stanthorpe facing the very real prospect of running dry, growers must somehow find the cash to truck water in for another eight weeks to sustain late harvesting apples, such as Pink Lady, through to maturity.
“It’s been a very challenging season and we’re still only eight weeks in,” says APAL CEO, Phil Turnbull.
“City-based consumers equate images of starving sheep and cattle with drought, but many have never considered the commercial impact prolonged water shortage has on permanent tree crops, or what it might do to our supply of apples and pears,” says Phil.
“We are calling on state and federal governments to work together on a long-term National Netting Program.”
“Studies show netting can reduce water consumption by up to 20 per cent and protect against extreme weather conditions, including drought, sunburn, hail frost and bird and flying fox infestations.”
Historically, the apple and pear industry has received little or no financial funding so APAL’s proposed national netting grant program will a major step forward for improving Australia’s food security and the sustainability of horticulture and rural communities.