Heartbreak as farmers forced to rip up 60yo fruit trees

July 20, 2013 4:44 pm 0 comments Views: 104

here is nothing subtle or sentimental about structural change in the Australian fruit and vegetable processing industry.

One by one, factories are cutting back production or closing down altogether and the collateral damage reverberates through the regional centres that developed around once thriving farming communities.

Shepparton heavy machinery contractor Russell Lardner is coming full circle.

He helped plant many of the peach and pear orchards in the Goulburn Valley, and now he is back to rip out those same trees, which have become surplus to the local cannery, operated for almost a century by SPC Ardmona.

Mr Lardner’s excavator is fitted with a menacing-looking steel spike that snaps 60-year-old pear trees out of the ground in a single swipe.

Fruit grower Peter Hall’s father planted the trees on his block at Mooroopna, and they have been reliable income earners for the family business ever since.

Peach and pear trees are uprooted on the property of Russell Lardner in the Goulburn Valley.

But consumers and the cannery have seemingly lost their appetite for this canning variety – known in the trade as WBC, but more commonly referred to as the Bartlett pear.

Even though they have consistently yielded 60 tonne to the hectare, the trees are redundant.

Mr Hall estimates as many as 750 hectares of pear and peach trees will be pushed over, piled up and burnt in the Goulburn valley over the next few weeks.

“They’re asleep at the moment, dormant during winter, but come spring when new fruit buds emerge, the trees will pose an unacceptable fruit fly risk to the rest of the industry,” he said.

He and his neighbours are pruning back their own farming operations in the interests of their long-term survival.

The global financial crisis, a high dollar and cheap imports have combined to undermine the profitability of food processing in the Goulburn Valley and other parts of Australia.

Some growers are able to switch production to the fresh fruit and vegetable market, but there is a fear that might lead to an oversupply and create other problems.

So the trees have to go and with them the jobs of pruners, pickers and packers – as many as 150 of them at Mr Hall’s place alone.

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