Note: The following media release was picked up by The Border Mail’s Country Mail (published on 29.3.14), Prime7 television news (screened 26.3.14) and ABC Goulburn Murray local news (aired 17.3.14).
Summer is officially over but local horticulturalists are still reeling from the consequences of January and February heatwaves. Citrus, avocado, apple and fig crops were particularly affected, with reports of lower yields, delayed or absent fruit set, smaller produce and defoliation.
Tiandi Grove has more than 400 lemon and lime trees but lost half their crop during the extreme heat. “Our trees went into survival mode and dropped their fruit”, said co-owner Robyn Burns-Taylor. “What fruit remained on the west side of trees literally baked in the afternoon sun, resulting in pale, flat spots on the lemons, leaving them fish and chip quality only.” They also lost half their crop of cut native flowers. “Hundreds and hundreds of our proteas, waratahs and other cut flowers dropped dead” said Ms Burns-Taylor. “Here in Staghorn Flat we have the best water in the valley and we pumped out 30,000 litres per day but it still didn’t make our plants happy.” Their olives withered, passionfruit reduced in size and number and avocados barely fruited.
Avocadoes were also badly affected at nearby Binderee Grove, on the Murray Valley Highway. “We usually produce around 600 avocadoes, but they cooked on the trees and we lost not only the fruit due to be picked over summer but also that set for October. Sadly we won’t get a crop for 18 months,” said orchardist Glenda Minty. Their 50 apple trees were also compromised. “Our main problem was that apples were half their usual size, but different varieties were affected in different ways, young Jonathons fell off, older Jonathons didn’t grow properly, English varieties went brown on the tree and others scorched.” Mrs Minty also reported problems with grapes that fried on vines, figs that were delayed and down in volume and South African bulbs that are later than usual.
For the past two years Wodonga Albury Toward Climate Health (WATCH) has maintained a database on impacts of extreme weather events on the local area. “In 2013 we received reports of only a few fruit crops affected by extreme heat, this year it was over a dozen different fruits from multiple commercial and backyard growers. Some producers were more fortunate than others, including those with shade structures and one who’d introduced an underground watering system,” said WATCH spokesperson, Lizette Salmon.
“Last year the Border suffered one heat wave, this summer it was three. Impacts weren’t confined to fruit crops, they also affected local egg and pork production, vegetable crops, native and introduced trees, birds, bees and other insects. Even some pavers and footpaths were affected, with evidence of lifting during days of extreme heat. Heat waves are anticipated to worsen because of climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions. It’s therefore essential we reduce our emissions to avert greater temperature extremes.”
According to the Climate Council’s 2013-14 Angry Summer report, the Border was by no means the only region affected by searing temperatures, with more than 150 weather records broken across the country. Meanwhile a draft of a new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on impacts of climate change states that changing weather conditions will threaten food security, with crop yields to drop as much as 2 percent per decade for the rest of the century, while food demand is on course to rise 14 per cent per decade until 2050.