Late last year, Growcom facilitated a workshop for commercial horticulture growers that were directly impacted by the Central Queensland bushfires in November 2019. The workshop involved six families, plus industry stakeholders such as the Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF). The workshop is an initiative of Growcom to develop a Bushfire Preparedness & Recovery Toolkit specific to horticulture, based on the lessons learned by growers in Central Queensland.  

Impacts of the 2019 bushfire included: 

  • Orchard losses directly from fire  
  • Fruit losses from smoke and heat and no power for irrigation  
  • Losses of infrastructure and equipment  
  • Substantial losses in income and long-term financial hardship as a result of damage to orchards.  

Growcom’s Hort360 Facilitator Michelle Haase captured grower experiences, observations and lessons learned at this first workshop. Key lessons learned by growers that have been captured so far include: 

  • Ensure bushfire preparedness activities are included in your property plan and make these a priority annually. 
  • Get to know your neighbour and discuss the risk of bushfire and needed hazard reduction activities to protect life and livelihood. 
  • Join the local rural fire brigade and get some training. 
  • Consider outlaying the dollars needed to equip your farm with an emergency power source that operates when mains power is down. This will be essential to operate your irrigation system during a bushfire emergency and potentially several days after. Also consider investing in a small (1000L) firefighting trailer or “slip on” unit on-farm ready at all times. 

Example of bushfire preparedness activities include: 

  • Maintenance of existing fire trails.  
  • Pulling of new fire trails, as necessary.  
  • Removal of rubbish and debris from around buildings, sheds, orchards, irrigation infrastructure (this includes items such as timber stakes, rolls of polypipe as these can ignite from ember attack and/or heat). 
  • Identify spots where polypipes emerge from underground – these will need to be monitored as polypipe can burn underground, igniting new unburnt parts of your orchard.  
  • Consider removing existing windbreaks or shelterbelts, and replacing with fire retardant plants; local nurseries should be able to supply a list of species. 

Importantly, have a plan and ensure that staff/family are briefed on the plan every year – in the face of a bushfire everyone needs to know: 

  • Who will leave?  
  • Who will stay?  
  • When will they leave? 
  • Where will they go?  
  • Which vehicles will they take?  
  • How will you stay in touch? 

The Rural Fire Service has an online planning template which is well worth checking out if you don’t already have a bushfire plan in place: www.ruralfire.qld.gov.au/BushFire_Safety/Pages/Create-your-bushfire-survival-plan.aspx 

Additionally, download Growcom’s Horticulture Natural Disaster Toolkit which includes a list of emergency contacts, an emergency kit checklist, a Climate Risk Assessment Template and much more to help you be prepared whatever the weather: www.growcom.com.au/services/climate-adaptation-disaster-resilience/ 

This project is jointly funded by the Australian and Queensland Governments under the Commonwealth-State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangement (DRFA). Although funding for this product has been provided by both the Australian and Queensland Governments, the material contained herein does not necessarily represent the views of either Government.