` Queensland Growers Hardest Hit After Historic Floods, Cyclone - Olive Oil Times

Queensland Growers Hardest Hit After Historic Floods, Cyclone

Feb. 14, 2011
Sarah Schwager

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Australian olive oil pro­duc­ers and farm­ers are reel­ing after sweep­ing floods and a cyclone have dev­as­tated most of the coun­try. For many parts this is com­ing off the back of a harsh 15-year long drought, the worst recorded since set­tle­ment.

Hundreds of kilo­me­ters wide, Cyclone Yasi started as a trop­i­cal dis­tur­bance in Fiji and rapidly increased speed as it approached the shore of Australia, with the eye of the storm hit­ting the coast at Mission Beach in Queensland on February 2 destroy­ing every­thing in its path from Townsville to Cairns and caus­ing havoc as far inland as the Northern Territory, with floods even recorded in South Australia.

The cat­e­gory 5 cyclone was the most pow­er­ful cyclone to hit Australia in 100 years, bring­ing winds of 290 kph (180 mph), heavy rains and treach­er­ous storm surges, with waves of more than six meters that swamped coastal towns.

Some affected areas are still com­pletely iso­lated just over a week after the storm hit.

Meanwhile, Australia’s south-east is still assess­ing the dam­age after a month of floods that inun­dated much of Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland.

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President of the Australian Olive Association (AOA) Paul Miller said the effects of the floods and the unusual trop­i­cal rain­fall are var­ied. In Queensland there are some groves where the infra­struc­ture has been seri­ously dam­aged,” he said. In Victoria the flood­ing was more of an incon­ve­nience restrict­ing access to the groves.”

Mr. Miller said while the olive trees should be okay it is the olives they are wor­ried about. The over­all effects of the bad weather will only be known at har­vest this year. The worry is ongo­ing wet weather and anthrac­nose dis­ease of the olives.”

Olive har­vest­ing began in the north coast of New South Wales late last week, lit­er­ally days after the storm.

Although Victorian grow­ers are not due to har­vest until late March, Mr. Miller said wet and humid weather is affect­ing fruit through­out south-east Australia. He said the trees should sur­vive as long as the water is mov­ing and passes quickly but if water is sit­ting around it will lose oxy­gen and the trees will die.

Losses have already been esti­mated at US$3.54 bil­lion, with US$2.03 bil­lion lost in agri­cul­ture, min­ing and local gov­ern­ment, and US$1 bil­lion lost in the tourism indus­try.

Agriculture was par­tic­u­larly hit hard, with farms affected across the coun­try, many still inun­dated, trees felled across most of Queensland, while fears of near total dev­as­ta­tion to the banana and sugar cane crops remain with ini­tial esti­mates that dam­age to sugar cane alone could reach US$505 mil­lion, which sparked a 30-year high in sugar prices across the world.

AOA Queensland Director Amanda Bailey said she has been try­ing to con­tact as many grow­ers in Queensland as she can to try to gain an idea of the impacts on Queensland’s olive indus­try.

She said so far there have been con­firmed reports of a grove in the Lockyer Valley to the west of Brisbane los­ing about 60 tonnes of fruit, and a table olive pro­cess­ing facil­ity where the facil­ity went under in the flood. Some of their trees lit­er­ally floated away from their grove,” she said.

Ms. Bailey said many other grow­ers were iso­lated at the time of the floods. Yesterday, I had a con­firmed report of a grower in the Atherton Tableland (west of Cairns) who had pre­vi­ously been dev­as­tated by Cyclone Larry and now Cyclone Yasi,” she said. They are still assess­ing the dam­age but will need to rebuild much infra­struc­ture and areas of their grove.”

The Queensland Government expects its top export indus­tries could take months to recover from the impacts of January’s flood­ing and February’s cyclone.

Meanwhile, con­sumers in the affected region have been warned of price rises of up to 500 per­cent, as seen after Cyclone Larry in 2006.

But Australian super­mar­ket chain Coles said last week that the impact of the floods and Cyclone Yasi on sup­plies will not stop it from fur­ther price reduc­tions, which saw extra vir­gin olive oil prices cut by 56 per­cent in the pre­vi­ous two weeks, a move that was imme­di­ately dupli­cated by lead­ing super­mar­ket chain Woolworths.

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