As we head into another summer with much of Queensland still drought declared, Growcom is encouraging growers to consider the risk of bushfire. Now is the time of the year that we should all be ensuring we’re prepared whatever the weather; but for horticulture growers, who run the risk of losing not just their home but also livelihood the stakes couldn’t be higher. 

Growcom has recently developed a toolkit and online resources specific to the horticulture industry to assist growers in being prepared, and ultimately more resilient, to bushfire. The toolkit was compiled in consultation with commercial horticulture growers in Central Queensland, who suffered significant crop losses from bushfire in November 2019. Upwards of $10 million of horticulture crops were lost and some growers are still very much feeling the financial blow of this event.

The region was considered at the time as being in a recovery phase from Tropical Cyclone Marcia, which has meant that this most recent natural disaster really took its toll on not just the financial side of things, but also the mental and emotional wellbeing of some horticulture families.

Impacts of the bushfire extended far beyond the immediate or direct impacts of fire or flames.  Horticulture growers experienced leaf drop and fruit losses from smoke, heat and ash, as well as loss of power which prevented irrigation during and well after the bushfire passed.

Growcom’s Hort360 Facilitators Michelle Haase and Lene Knudsen captured grower experiences, observations and lessons learnt to compile the horticulture specific resources which include:

  • A glovebox sized toolkit which can be used to populate orchard specific information to assist growers in identifying bushfire hazards and strategies to reduce those risks.
  • Videos capturing practical strategies to preparing orchards, packing facilities and rural home, as well as some back to basics on plant physiology and responses to bushfire, smoke, ash and heat.
  • Case studies featuring the different orchard recovery approaches adopted by mango and lychee growers in the aftermath of the bushfire.
  • A two-part podcast on Elephant in my Paddock – an agricultural podcast that takes a deep dive into those tricky but crucial issues facing rural and regional Australia.

Key take home messages of the growers and stakeholders that assisted in the development of the resources included:

  • make bushfire preparedness an annual priority
  • join the local rural fire brigade and learn some basic firefighting skills
  • talk to your neighbours about hazard reduction to protect life and livelihood
  • consider investing in a small (1000L) firefighting trailer or “slip on” unit on-farm ready at all times.

Growers also recommended outlaying the dollars needed to equip orchards with an emergency power source that could operate when mains power could be down. This will be essential to operate irrigation during a bushfire emergency and potentially several days or weeks after which reduces potential for post-bushfire crop losses.

Importantly, everyone needs to have a Bushfire Survival Plan – in the face of a bushfire your family, staff and neighbours need 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?

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services has an online planning portal: www.qfes.qld.gov.au/bushfires

The project funding the development of these resources is jointly funded under the Commonwealth/State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements 2018. Growcom acknowledges the funding contributions of both the Australian and Queensland Governments, and the valuable contributions made to the project by the following stakeholders; Livingstone Shire Council, Central Queensland University, Capricorn Catchments, Maryvale Rural Fire Brigade and volunteers, Queensland Farmers’ Federation, and horticulture growers Groves Grown, Daly Creek Orchard, and Tropic Fields.