Growers have their backs to the wall

DESPITE record breaking rain in Kununurra last month, several melon growers in the Ord Valley have succeeded in planting their first seeds – on time.

 But this year local growers have bigger problems on their hands than just trying to juggle seasons.

Soaring fertiliser prices are expected to give the industry a hammering.

 Ivanhoe producers Darryl and Rosemarie Smith said they rely heavily on Roundup during the wet season for weed control.

 And Mr Smith said its cost “has risen phenomenally”.

He said while everyone is talking about the high prices for commodities such as wheat, melon prices have remained fairly static.

 So with crippling input costs and little sign of increased returns, the region’s melon growers will have their backs to the wall in the coming season.

 Mr Smith said the melon industry is also concerned about its reputation at the retail end because of quality control.

“We follow strict regulations when transporting our melons and are confident to say they are kept within the 6C minimum requirement – which assures a good shelf life,” Mr Smith said.

 “But it is disappointing to see fruit put out on supermarket shelves at store temperature – which causes it to deteriorate quickly,” he said.

He said it is frustrating for all growers and should not reflect their efforts.

 “The market remains good if everyone is producing quality melons as well as keeping the standards up on the other end,” he said.

 But the consumer judges the product on what they purchase, not understanding how it was grown and the quality it was in when it left the farm gate.

 Mr Smith said melons are extremely labour intensive, and next month should see the influx of backpackers and an increase in employment by May, when pickers and packers are needed. 

 The Ord melon industry launches annually during the wet season, from December until March, and getting in the ground at that time can have a huge impact on yields.

But the Smiths said it is a gamble growers have to take.

 “You just cannot predict Mother Nature,” Mrs Smith said.

“As soon as it is dry enough to get into the paddock we plant,” she said.

 Melons are seasonably dependent and a typical season in Kununurra begins in March with the last seeds being planted at the beginning of August.

 However, farms such as Ivanhoe stop planting in July because of the sharp increase in temperature and humidity.

 “Melons grow well at 30C, but anything over 40C and they ripen too quickly,” Mrs Smith says.

 Unseasonal mid-year rain last year caused some problems in the valley.

“We were lucky to get through it, other growers suffered worse, but it slowed the growth of our melons,” Mr Smith says.

“And our yields took a blow from diseases caused by the rain,” he says.

 “For the temperature to drop below 25C, and everything being wet, had a huge impact on melons up here.” 

Mrs Smith also says Ord growers do not have the option of manipulating their crops like growers in the south of WA do during the heat as the temperature does not drop significantly during the night in hotter months.

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