MORE than 100 residents and farmers gathered in Coffs Harbour to discuss possibly one of the most divisive topics in our region today: the proliferation of blueberry farms.
The meeting was a full house, with neighbours discussing their experiences of blueberries being grown close to their houses, claiming some farmers were ignoring government guidelines, including leaving a 200m buffer between houses and farms.
There were concerns about impacts on water quality and unlicensed dams, pumps and bores using large amounts of water from the system that was going unaccounted for.
Councillor and environmental scientist Sally Townley said the meeting provided an opportunity for members of the blueberry industry to hear first-hand the concerns of neighbours.
"What I'm finding is there is a pattern of people being passed around from EPA to DPI to council and their issues are not necessarily being addressed and resolved," she said.
What was on many neighbours' minds was that history could be repeating itself.
"In the 1980s and '90s there was a massive amount of chemical use on bananas," Cr Townley said.
"Lots of chemicals were used which were thought to be safe at the time but later on it was found out the chemicals were not safe and they were subsequently banned.
"As a result, large parts of Coffs Harbour are considered to have soil contaminated by these chemicals, which really restricts the use of the land.
"So there is community concern that we may be repeating the same pattern."
Meanwhile, the Australian Blueberry Growers Association announced it was working closely with the State Government Inter-Agency Group on the mid-north coast to finalise an industry code of conduct.
The code of conduct will be aimed at promoting sustainable farming practices, including minimising environmental and amenity impacts on immediate and surrounding areas.
"We do not condone the minority of growers who overstep the line, and they should be properly brought to account," Australian Blueberry Growers Association treasurer Peter McPherson said.
Some blueberry farmers in the region were last month discovered to be breaching regulations during inspections by the Environmental Protection Agency and council staff.