More border changes promised

By Geoff Adams

Improved border access will not come soon enough for a company trying to develop a major new citrus orchard near Barooga.

The NSW premier is promising an easing of travel restrictions over the next 10 days.

The United States-based company Agriculture Capital Management is harvesting citrus on a 200 ha property near Berrigan and trying to build an irrigated orchard on 420 ha north of Barooga.

The company's export packing shed is over the Murray River in Cobram.

Harvest labour travels across the border, and contractors working on installing 1500 km of irrigation drip tape also come from Victoria.

Company senior regional associate Andrew Mann said the border restrictions due to COVID-19 were causing some frustration.

“We just don't know from week to week what's happening because the rules keep changing.

“If we get the development stopped for a month or so, it will have a massive impact.

“You just can't tell a tree to stop growing.”

The harvest labour is picking about 5500 tonnes of fruit from the Berrigan property, including the high value Sumo Citrus, between June and October.

The NSW Government is considering extending the travel zone to give more freedom to border communities.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the coalition government would, during the next 10 days, look to extend the border zone from 2.5 km to 50 km.

He said this would give more freedom to those on both sides of the border to work and function as a community.

Mr Barilaro also flagged further changes including increasing the distance agricultural workers can travel.

This is the second time the NSW Government has promised amendments to improve life for border communities.

Businesses and farmers living along the border have been unhappy with previous changes and impractical requirements in the detailed conditions.

Last week a Shepparton-based veterinarian was relieved when changes were introduced, only to discover that COVID-19 cases in Greater Shepparton meant that his permission to enter NSW to treat cattle was withdrawn.

Veterinary company Apiam's chief executive officer Chris Richards said the restrictions were creating difficulties for the company in getting specialised services across the border.

The company was using new technologies to deliver services across the river.

Mr Barilaro said further changes included allowing the agriculture workforce to travel across the border, initially within a 100 km radius, and creating quarantine areas closer to the border.

He said there would also be quarantine hubs set up along the border in NSW for agricultural workers, some of whom had been told to travel to Melbourne and fly to Sydney to enter the state.

Victorian Nationals leader Peter Walsh met with Mr Barilaro and believes the deputy premier is serous about his commitment to cross-border communities.

He believes Mr Barilaro had an uphill battle with the NSW Health Department and appeared to be committed to bringing about changes to ease restrictions on agriculture.

Mr Walsh said Mr Barilaro knew NSW farmers were relying on interstate contractors to help bring in the approaching grains harvest and to deliver a wool clip.

The VFF welcomed what it called the partial relaxation of the restrictions but warned that farmers would continue to experience problems with the movement of people and products in both states.

VFF president David Jochinke said a commonsense logic-driven solution was needed to ensure Victoria's almost $40 billion agriculture industry could continue to feed the nation.