Blueberry farm in the Shire reignites the debate

Ready for a blueberry crop: Concerns are being raised about water resources, the use of chemicals and pesticides, town planning, the clearing of vegetation, the potential for pollution and the impact on threatened species.
Ready for a blueberry crop: Concerns are being raised about water resources, the use of chemicals and pesticides, town planning, the clearing of vegetation, the potential for pollution and the impact on threatened species.

News of a blueberry farm in Valery has reignited the debate – should intensive horticulture require a Development Application (DA) and is this what the Valley should aspire to?

The questions are eerily reminiscent of a 2015 discussion, when a consortium of Coffs Harbour farmers bought a 250 acre agricultural property in the Bellingen Shire, to establish a blueberry farm.

At the time, many residents flagged their concerns at the current legislation: if a property is RU2 Rural Landscape, and the crop planted is classified horticulture, the owners do not have to lodge a DA.

Council has previously stated “while the land use itself does not require approval from council, there is a suite of legislation established to protect water resources and habitat, and to control the use of chemicals and pesticides. To help protect the environment, the appropriate regulatory authorities’ ARAs collectively inspected the site and are undertaking action where appropriate, including on-going monitoring and education to improve farming practices.”

However, mayor Dominic King has long voiced his consternation on blueberry farms and this latest development has sparked the Bellingen Environment Centre (BEC) to call a meeting at the CWA on Monday, March 13 at 7pm to discuss intensive horticulture in the Shire.

“Intensive Horticulture is creeping into the Bellinger Valley by stealth and residents across the Shire will gather to discuss largely unmonitored and unregulated development of intensive horticulture as a new plantation has now become evident to worried neighbours from Valery,” BEC spokesperson Caroline Joseph said.

“Residents have also expressed concern to BEC about large tracts of private forested land being cleared … and the fact that this can be cleared through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with no reference to Bellingen Shire Council – just a desktop approval process that can be granted within hours.

“It’s a practice fraught with danger –  trusting owners to identify and search for threatened species such as koalas.”

Ms Joseph said not only at this farm, but residents moreover had expressed concern that these areas of cleared land were being prepared for the further expansion of the blueberry industry into the Shire.

“Residents and council do not know about a blueberry farm development until they are there,” Ms Joseph said.

“They do not get the chance to raise concerns … in this case the heavy water use and the cocktail of chemical used for the crop with the potential for the toxic run-off to go straight into Pine Creek and perhaps then into Bongil Bongil National Park.”

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