Berries Australia executive director Rachel Mackenzie at a a blueberry farm in Bucca.
Berries Australia executive director Rachel Mackenzie at a a blueberry farm in Bucca. Contributed

Bring it on says blueberry industry group

THE peak industry body for the berry industry has welcomed the recent round of inspections aimed at weeding out illegal water use, and says it supports their case that development applications for new farms are not necessary.

The Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) is currently in the region conducting inspections focussing on water take, dam size, how water take is monitored and what practices growers have in place to protect water quality in nearby watercourses.

Berries Australia executive director Rachel Mackenzie says the industry has taken significant proactive steps in relation to ensuring growers know the rules, but fundamentally these rules have to be enforced by government.

"We welcome the NSW Government's crack-down on illegal water extraction in the Coffs Coast region," Ms Mackenzie said.

"Fundamentally the actions of a few growers are causing great reputational damage to this incredibly important industry and as a peak body we support those who do the right thing."

NRAR is an independent regulator that enforces compliance with water management legislation in NSW and attempts to prevent water theft.

While in the region the regulator is selecting properties to be inspected using local knowledge, satellite imagery, water-use records and compliance-history records.

"The Natural Resources Access Regulator has an important job to do and if there is found to be instances of deliberate non-compliance then they should take the appropriate action," Ms Mackenzie said.


A blueberry farm at Bonville.
A blueberry farm at Bonville. TREVOR VEALE

With Coffs Harbour City Council currently reviewing its policy on how to manage intensive plant agriculture Ms Mackenzie has taken the opportunity to highlight the industry's opposition to the introduction of development applications for new farms.

"We see this action by the NSW government as an important step to manage some of the community concerns around blueberry production and will give the Coffs Coast Council confidence that the introduction of development approvals for the region are not needed and will have unnecessary economic consequences for the region," Ms Mackenzie said.

People have until Friday to have their say on the council's Intensive Plant Agriculture Discussion Paper and Draft Rural Lands Chapter 5 by following this link.

She says the blueberry industry has invested significantly in the development of a Code of Conduct and for the last year Berries Australia has been working with growers to help them become compliant.

According to Ms Mackenzie the Coffs Coast blueberry industry is estimated to bring around $250 million worth of value to the region as well as attracting seasonal workers, which creates local jobs in a range of support sectors.

Berries Australia is a joint venture between the Australian Blueberry Growers Association, the Raspberry and Blackberry Association and Strawberries Australia Inc.

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