Booming Queensland citrus industry under threat by Paradise Dam decision

The Burnett region’s growing citrus industry, currently worth $183 million to the region, is under threat from the Palaszczuk Government’s decision to lower the Paradise Dam wall. The growth of export-quality mandarins in Queensland’s Burnett region is one of Australia’s great agricultural success stories.

Queensland’s innovative citrus growers, who also produce lemons and limes, have increased the size of the citrus industry in the state over the past two decades by targeting international markets for their produce. Countries like Thailand are now importing record numbers of Queensland mandarins, which has lifted the value of the local product.

This has enabled local family-owned citrus businesses to expand, which has created more permanent employment opportunities for local residents and significant economic contributions to the regional area, including Gayndah and Mundubbera. However, Citrus Australia CEO Nathan Hancock said future growth of the industry, and the benefits that would bring the local region, would be stopped if the Paradise Dam wall is not restored to its original height. 

The Government and the state-owned dam operator, Sunwater, have spent $100 Million removing 5.8 metres from the wall of the dam, having last year released 105,000 megalitres of water to lower the capacity to 42 per cent. A report by international dam expert, Dr Paul Rizzo, has stated the dam can be repaired and restored to its original height.

“External advice has revealed that the damaged dam wall can be repaired, removing any potential threat to the community,” Mr Hancock said. “The irony is, the government’s decision to permanently lower the wall, and the amount of water that can be held, will cause billions of dollars of damage in terms of lost revenue and potential employment opportunities to the region.”

Mr Hancock said he welcomed Opposition leader Deb Frecklington’s commitment to restore the Paradise Dam to full capacity, as well as $25m to build the Cooranga Weir on the Boyne River and $20m to build the Barlil Weir on Barambah Creek. “We call on the Labour Government to match this commitment from the Liberal National Party for the growth and wellbeing of the entire region,” Mr Hancock said.

Craig Spencer, owner and Managing Director of fruit and vegetable company, Carter & Spencer, said all investment projects have been put on hold. Mr Spencer began farming in the region in 2007 with the purchase of an established citrus orchard at Wallaville, north west of Bundaberg. “We had been marketing the fruit for the previous owner of the orchard since its inception, so when the previous owner decided to retire it was natural that we would consider purchasing the orchard,” Mr Spencer said.

“Water reliability has always been an issue prior to the dam being built, so, without Paradise Dam, I doubt we would have made the investment into farming at that time. “Since 2007 we have invested in a number of farming operations in the Bundaberg region and now employ 120 to 200 people depending on the time of year. Wallaville is a tiny settlement 45 minutes from Bundaberg and we are one of the main employers in the district.

“Before the news of the Government’s decision to lower the wall of Paradise Dam, we had a number of key expansion projects underway. We had a major upgrade of our irrigation equipment planned on our existing farm. That upgrade was budgeted to cost $900 000. In addition, we had commenced developing another 42 hectares which we planned to plant to citrus. With the investment in irrigation infrastructure, purchasing additional water, the cost of planting young trees and getting them into production we were planning to invest well over $2,000,000 and create further permanent jobs for locals. That is money we would have spent with our local irrigation supplier; that’s jobs that are at risk now that these types of projects aren’t going ahead”.

“Now, we have a farm we can’t fully utilize, trees we can’t plant, and we’ve had to cancel our irrigation infrastructure plans. All our investment projects in the Bundaberg area have been put on hold. We just have no faith that the dam will be restored to capacity by the current Government.”

North Burnett citrus growers Hamish and Megan MacDonald have a citrus orchard just below the dam wall, directly on the Burnett River. “Twelve months on from the release of the water we are still grappling with the impacts of the Government’s decision,” Mrs MacDonald said. “We had a Government organisation make a decision in the middle of the night and all of a sudden our whole lives fall apart. We’ve had several meetings with Sunwater, but there is still so much uncertainty about our future.”

“We’ve spent the last 12 months in complete limbo,” Mr MacDonald said. “We don’t know what will happen with water allocations in the future, we don’t know if we’ll be able to buy more water in the future; there are just so many unknowns. Like many farmers in the district we intended to buy more water when our orchard matured. We didn’t buy the water earlier because we didn’t want to pay all the Sunwater fixed charges for water we wouldn’t need for 5 – 10 years.

“Now that the wall has been lowered and the Government has made no commitment to fix it, we don’t know if that water will be available to buy in the future. We’ve built up this farm from scratch. It’s our whole future. When so many lives have been impacted by this situation with the dam, we just can’t believe that no one is being held accountable,” Mr MacDonald said.

For more information:
Stephen Cooke
Citrus Australia
Tel: +61 427 124 437

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