Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (11:13): I would like to make a brief contribution to thank the Natural Resources Committee for making the journey up to the Riverland. I am hoping that they gained a lot out of it. The member for Mawson has just given quite a descriptive brief on what they saw and the challenges that the region faced not only through the most recent high-flow event that turned into a flood event but what the day-to-day challenges are: being a food producer, dealing with biosecurity issues and dealing with the vagaries of weather. I think there was a bit of a mixture of all of that in that trip.
I would also like to thank the Riverland businesses, local government and institutions that played host to the committee. I think their input was valuable and it made the trip quite valuable for committee members and staff to understand what the challenges were and the way the locals responded.
I guess first cab off the rank for me was day 2 when the committee went out to Omega to have a look at Drew and Caren Martin's nut farm. I think everything looked pretty kosher; everything looked pretty comfortable when they got there, but that was not to be in the coming weeks. We saw a significant rise in the river levels, particularly up near lock 6, particularly below lock 6, where the Martins' pumping station is.
It was really quite a contrast to see what was on the edge of the river, what we thought would have been the river coming up to the door of that pumping station. That was definitely not the case. We saw levee banks being built, we saw gensets and diesel tankers brought in to deal with the ongoing need for pumping up to their farm, which was some kilometres away. But it did give a good understanding to the committee of what the preparation needed to be for that forthcoming flood event.
There is also Brendan Sidhu. He is an industry leader, an industry chair, who was also at the farm, and he gave an insight into some of the diversity that the industry is looking at, whether it be looking at some of the newer technologies, self-pollinating varieties of almonds or some of the catch-and-release methods, dealing with food safety and biosecurity but also some of the vagaries around pollination.
Obviously, many of us would know that pollination is a vital necessity when it comes to good food production and the amount of pollination needed to have a successful crop. We know that the bee industry is dealing with a number of disease issues at the moment, and that has certainly impacted on the supply of bees to that industry. It is right across the board, actually. Any broadacre horticulture is dealing with some of those vagaries. I think all of that was explained pretty well by Brendan, by Drew and by Caren, and I think people went away with a much better understanding of some of the challenges but at the same time what preparation was needed to deal with some of the challenges living on the edge of a river.
Also, I think it needs to be said that we moved on to RNR Farms. Richie Roberts is a good friend of mine, and the farm that we visited was my old citrus orchard. We saw a little bit of citrus there, but the majority of the farm has now been converted to protected cropping. Underneath that protection is, of course, as the member for Mawson has said, a very valuable commodity now, blueberries.
Blueberries are very labour intensive, with huge inputs, because all of the plants are grown in bags hydroponically and it has to be very closely monitored. Those plants are watered up to eight times a day. It has to be kept away from frost, it has to be kept away from sun and wind and it has to be kept away from birds. We saw there, when we looked at the expanse of that property under cover, the inputs that went into that.
We were also lucky enough to visit the pack house to look at what are very small berries. You have to pick a lot of them to make a tonne. I know that Richie is approaching some 30 tonnes per year, and that is a significant production line that he has achieved in quite a small amount of time. That does show what the region is about, and that is diversity, adopting technology, adopting new techniques.
We are now seeing more and more crops going under cover, dealing with the vagaries of climate, dealing with the challenges with growing a successful crop. Richie has protected those crops a number of times from significant hail and from significant sun damage as well as achieving water savings under that cover. I think that was also a very valuable visit and a valuable exercise.
As was stated, the brand that those blueberries come under is an international brand, Driscoll, that is also supported by the Costa Group which is a massive employer in the Riverland in many, many industries—not only citrus, avocados and berries but we are looking at table grapes, mushrooms and quite a varied range of horticultural commodities. That business is quite valued and varied so that they can deal with the vagaries of commodity prices and weather impacts. I think it really was a very valuable exercise.
I did not visit the Loxton Research Centre but, as has been stated, I am very pleased that the former government saw fit to reinvest into the research centre. We have seen a conversion, in conjunction with the federal government, from the old research centre—which has now been turned into a business centre—and the newly-built research centre, which is now a control centre, by and large, for fruit fly, the world's most invasive pest or insect. The region is really struggling at the moment to keep that pest under control.
Sadly, we are seeing a significant continuation of outbreaks. For those of you who do not know, the majority of these outbreaks are being detected in people's backyards; they are not in commercial orchards. What we are seeing and experiencing is extreme hardship with the cost in treating fruit to get it to market. The reputation that the region has as a pest-free area is now being questioned by some of our international markets.
Every Riverlander is playing their part, every grower is suffering the consequences of many of those detections being in people's backyards. I would urge people in their backyards to pick up fallen fruit and to make sure that they manage those few trees that they have in their backyards because it is impacting on many, many hundreds of thousands, if not millions of trees that are commercial businesses that are being dragged down by a few trees that are being impacted by the Queensland fruit fly.
Along the way, the Natural Resources Committee visited Calperum, which is managed by the Australian Landscape Trust. Currently, the interconnector is going past that station, so it is changing the view of the landscape. There were many other opportunities and the committee saw the construction of the levee banks, the 38 kilometres that needed to be either upgraded or rebuilt to keep Renmark safe and dry. I think the community and local government have done a great job in rallying together the local businesses that came together and built the levees successfully to keep the community dry and safe.
I commend the Natural Resources Committee for going up to the Riverland for a fact-finding mission, and I am hoping that, under invitation, we will see them again in the not-too-distant future.