The Bellingen Environment Centre started working on the Blueberry Campaign in 2015 when a local Valery resident notified them of their environmental concerns with a 150 acre blueberry farm on the edge of Pine Creek. The resident had exhausted every avenue to try and protect their local environment but still nothing serious has been done. Since the campaign began the blueberry farm has now expanded to over 400acres.
“Within weeks the forest was all cleared, the rows were ploughed almost to the edge of the Pine Creek, the Core Koala Habitat was gone. There were no siltation barriers in place. In March the rains came and once again the erosive destruction and pollution of Pine Creek continued on a massive scale.”
Residents experience 2017
This isn’t just a blueberry problem it’s an industrial farming problem it’s not a Coffs Coast problem it’s a world problem. Soil degradation, land clearing, water shortage and pollution is happening worldwide. Due to over farming our fertile, crop production is dwindling. We need to start making industry changes to help preserve our major life source.
You just have to watch an episode of Landline to see sustainable methods are being adopted throughout farming in Australia. These changes are creating remarkable results with eco systems returning and working with the farm to create better production, lower costs, fertile soil and a less demands on water. In this day and age we have to start adapting the positive science that is transforming the industry and stop using out of date farm methods that have a detrimental effect on our health and natural heritage.
The Main Concerns
There are no set of rules that are enforced to make sure farmers are doing right by residents and the environment. The EPA is understaffed and have only been to a handful of farms in the four years residents have been making complaints.
A Code of conduct was released from the Australian Blueberry Growers Association this year. It didn’t seriously address the ongoing concerns residents were facing and with no body to enforce the code it really means nothing.
Both leading parties plan to expand the industry by 20% each year for export to china. Like normal they are more concerned about the money than its people and We know there are farmers trying to do the right thing but every industry has rules to follow the reason we have rules is to cut out the cowboys that are giving workers a bad name.
No Protection of our Waterways
Water is such a precious commodity in Australia and around the world today. Blueberries are a very thirsty crop, to keep up the demand farmers have been illegally pumping out of our regions creeks and rivers. They have been building oversized dams which are catching the water before it gets to our natural water way.
Farms run off is a great concern as its contaminated with chemical residue and silt erosion due to the direction of the rows they act like gutters which run strait into our creeks rivers and their dams, that eventually over flow into the water ways when the big rains do come. This is putting creeks, rivers and the oceans eco systems at risk.
The southern cross university did a yearlong study of Bucca Bucca Creek over 2017 and found nitrate levels 50% to 800% over normal levels downstream from the blueberry farms. If nitrates build up it creates algae bloom taking the oxygen from the water and harming all the life in the water ways. The university had an information session for farmers about the report but sadly it was poorly attended.
If farmers directed the rows across the contours of the land, used mulch instead of black plastic, introduced simple nitrate pits or reed beds, used silt catches and sufficient treed buffer zones they could reduce the amount of water needed and significantly reduce their impacts they have on our creeks and rivers.
Over use of chemicals
Overspray from the farms end up in our air which ends up in our drinking water, settling on our lawns, clothes, pools, gardens and finally into our precious water systems. If farms had sufficient treed buffer zones and sprayed responcibly it would stop the spray drift landing on resident’s homes.
America has put blueberries on the most toxic list due to the high amounts of chemicals that are used in their production. With Australia still using chemicals that have been banned in the UK and America for years due to their cancer-causing properties who knows what our berries are getting sprayed with. Chemical build up in our bodies can lead to a number of health problems.
In some cases there has been no regard for forest zoning. Koala corridors have been clear felled to make way for fields. The trees cut down are used for posts in the bird netting. Clearing the land adds to decline in wildlife, loss of habitat, erosion and silt build up. The fines farmers receive for forest destructions are insignificant compared to the money blueberry farms are making.
“Even though there was definite proof of pollution, erosion and illegal land clearing there still is no action with no results. These farmers are uncontrolled doing whatever they wish. There are no rules it seems, the wheels turn so extremely slow by the time there is any action by the relevant authorities it is too late and the damage is done both to the land and wildlife. The issue of pesticide spraying is also now a very urgent issue.”
What the BEC has been doing
In 2017 the BEC held a series of meeting first to hear community concerns. To follow we held an information session to explain up to date alternative methods to replace out of date farming around Coffs Harbour and finally a public awareness meeting to let other people in our community know what is really happening.
The executive director of the Blueberry Growers Association was invited to give residents an over view of the Code of Conduct they created and run a Q and A session on the problems in the area. Unfortunately, Alex Smith cancelled due to personal reasons. When the BEC called to reschedule the meeting, he declined as he told us the consultation period was over and all residents have had their chance to voice their opinions at their meetings. This is total rubbish as no resident was invited to any meeting.
We also lobbied the Bellingen, Nambucca and Coffs councils urging them to pass DA approval for all intensive horticulture and asked that the DPI guidelines be enforced for all Blueberry farmers.
Bellingen council passed a gateway proposal regarding buffer zones and wildlife corridors this was accepted at reginal planning. Unfortunately, The State planning authority knocked it back due to Political decision. Sally Townley and Dominic King are not happy with this result and are now taking the matter to a private body the joint reginal planning panel along with the water report.
How to help
JOIN YOUR LOCAL facebook GROUP Citizens unite or Bellingen blueberry action group, join Bellingen Environment Centre, Clarence environment centre, Nambucca conservation center North Coast Environment conservation.
Get your creeks and water tanks tested, hold a fundraiser, sign our petition, donate and educate your community.
Sign this petition
We are calling upon concerned residents to regularly contact state and local government and the media to express their concerns have a standard letter and mailing list that you email once a month or once a week. Listed below are some useful contacts.
The Hon Sussan Ley MP Electorate Office Telephone:(02) 6021 3264; Fax:(02) 6021 6620
Pat Conaghan, National Party of Australia
Melinda Pavey Member for Oxley (02) 65626190