Australia’s fresh produce industry has been affected by the significant bushfires continuing to burn across the country.
Major apple and pear growing regions were hit by fires in the past month with New South Wales (NSW) the most recent area coming under threat, according to Phil Turnbull, chief executive of Apple and Pear Australia.
“At this stage, there have been three main apple and pear growing regions affected by the fires, the Adelaide Hills (South Australia), that were hit just prior to Christmas. Bilpin (NSW) and Batlow (NSW) were impacted over the weekend (4-5 January),” Turnbull said.
"South Australia (SA) has reported that approximately 25ha were damaged, with some growers more heavily impacted than others. Bilpin in the Blue Mountains in NSW has reported extensive fires but in several cases the fires were kept out of the main orchards with damage occurring on the perimeters of the orchards," Turnbull added.
"It is too early to determine the extent of the damage in Batlow, as some growers are only beginning to gain access to their properties."
Montague was one of the growers affected by the Batlow fire. Scott Montague, chief executive of Montague, said it was with great relief the company could report its 75ha apple orchards in Batlow received only minor damage from the fire.
“The orchard has over 200,000 apple trees but sustained damage to less than 5,000 trees on the boundary of the property because fires were largely contained to areas outside of orchard blocks,” Montague said.
“In addition, all Montague staff were evacuated prior to the arrival of the fire and no injuries have been reported.”
Montague thanked the work of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, emergency services, the company’s staff and the local community for protecting the area.
“While there is severe damage to some orchards and buildings in the greater Batlow area we are grateful that many of the buildings and houses in Batlow town and district have largely been saved.”
Montague said the company is committed to supporting the recovery of the region and despite some losses, he said “there will be a significant crop of high-quality apples from the Batlow region available for sale across Australian in the coming season.”
In Western Australia (WA) fires in near Norseman, cut off the Eyre Highway, the only sealed road between SA and WA.
The highway was closed for a minimum of five days on 2 January, a closure which is expected to be extended according to an ABC report.
Cam Dumesny, chief executive of Western Roads Federation, the peak body for road transport companies in WA said these closures would have an impact on WA’s fresh produce.
“Things that we are bringing across from the east … things like cherries, stonefruit, watermelon, pumpkin, they'll run into short supply," Dumesny told the ABC.
"On the other side of the coin, our seafood, avocado and lettuce producers are having problems because we can't get their produce to market on the east coast."
Major retailers Woolworths and Coles told the ABC the closure would result in shortages of some fruits and vegetables, but they were working to restore supply.