Published by Cobram Courier online and in print on March 12.


Fruitgrowing body heads have welcomed the Victorian Government’s investment in the Goulburn Valley industry, with one saying the government should be more concerned with saving the sector before growing it.

The $55 million investment portfolio announced last week included a 15-year strategic plan for fruit production and processing in the region, a $16 million concessional loans scheme, a horticulture Centre for Excellence and a trade strategy to secure a supply chain on Asian markets.

Victorian Peach and Apricot Growers Association president Tony Latina said the government needed to focus on helping struggling farmers rather than big-ticket items like free trade agreements.

‘‘When the government puts money into agriculture, it’s a good thing,’’ Mr Latina said. ‘‘However, they’re not doing anything to help growers in financial difficulty.

‘‘It’s good they’re trying to encourage exports, but if growers are not viable they can’t expand.’’

He highlighted the concessional loans scheme as an example some farmers were being left behind.

‘‘They’re only helping viable growers who are well off and can afford to buy out their next door neighbour,’’ he said.

When asked whether he thought the government’s strategic plan and Centre for Excellence would help struggling farmers, Mr Latina said the money would better be spent on initiatives such as eradicating fruit fly.

Cobram Fruitgrowers Association president Frank Diaco said many Cobram and district growers were doing it tough, but the government’s new initiatives signalled ‘‘a step to solving the problem’’.

‘‘It looks like (the government is) getting proactive now in trying to support growers,’’ Mr Diaco said.

‘‘There’s a lot of detail still to come out of all these other things, but at least the government is listening to growers and trying to do something.

‘‘I think it has come too late, obviously, to be good for some people still in the industry — it’s a pity that the government as well as the (SPC Ardmona) cannery weren’t a bit more proactive.’’

Mr Latina echoed Mr Diaco’s question of timing, saying the government should have intervened last year when SPC Ardmona cut the supply contracts of farmers across the region.

Mr Latina was one of many Cobram farmers forced to pull thousands of trees after his contract was cut.

‘‘When it all boils down to it, growers doing it really tough don’t get any help,’’ he said.

‘‘There was no assistance to remove trees.

‘‘Growers had to bear the cost themselves.’’

Last week’s announcements followed the government’s $22 million co-investment at SPC Ardmona last month.

Deputy Premier Peter Ryan yesterday said the government’s position was ‘‘vindicated’’ by SPC’s $70 million deal with Woolworths.

‘‘If we... had bowed to ill-conceived calls to fund the removal of fruit trees just a few short months ago, the growers of the Goulburn Valley would not be in a position to meet this increased demand for their product,’’ Mr Ryan said.

AuthorToni Brient