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Fruit grower exits industry over new ban

CATTLEMAN: Former stonefruit grower Ray Hick stands under the netting where his peach and nectarine trees used to grow.
CATTLEMAN: Former stonefruit grower Ray Hick stands under the netting where his peach and nectarine trees used to grow. Christian Morrow

IN THE past year Ray Hick, owner of Bangalow's Heavenly Valley farm, has gone from stonefruit grower and industry leader to cattle farmer.

The former president of the local stonefruit grower association Low Chill, and board member of peak stonefruit body Summerfruits Australia, said he left the industry after the Federal Government restricted the use of the main spray used to control fruit fly.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority heavily restricted the use of Fenthion, due to concerns over toxicity and residue levels on fruit and vegetables.

Mr Hick spent three years fighting the Federal Government over the ban on Fenthion and even took part in a trial of possible substitutes with the Queensland Department of Agriculture.

The trial was aborted about halfway through in October 2012, when one of the three trial farms recorded a 50% infestation.

"I made a judgment decision to get out when the government restricted the use of Fenthion," Mr Hick said.

"Fenthion has no real alternative and the fruit fly was becoming more and more resilient each season.

"I wasn't about to spend $250,000 on producing a crop and then worry every night about getting a call from my agent telling me that a retailer had rejected my produce because fruit fly had been found."

So, last year, Mr Hick bulldozed the 5000 peach and nectarine trees on his farms to run 30 cattle.

"It will cost $150,000 year to run it, so it really is just a lifestyle property," he said. "The cattle will basically save me from having to mow.

"We used to employ eight people on the farm, turning over probably $500,000 per year, which we spent locally.

"The multiplier effect is pretty big, so it means around $1.5 million is not going into the local economy."

Mr Hick believes it is becoming more difficult for Australian farmers to make a living and said farmers should band together into one voting bloc, to give themselves political clout, citing France as an example.

"If French farmers have a problem, they drop animal manure on the steps of government buildings and the police don't do a thing.

"The government realises that they have upset the farmers and their grievances are addressed and it's solved."

Topics:  cattle environment fenthion ban horticulture