Thursday, January 05, 2012

minister - yarra ranges council stupid?

I have had a long record of supporting hail netting for farmers in Yarra Ranges. The Lyster Ward contains a significant orchard sector covered in hail netting.

In what can only described as bizarre, the Minister for Agriculture, today released a statement slamming Yarra Ranges as having "stupid Yarra Ranges Council policies" because the Minister believes we want to restrict the use of hail netting.

The Minister's release was made after visiting the destroyed crops of Yarra Valley strawberry growers. The full quote, "But what makes it disappointing is that the damage could have been minimized (sic) except for stupid Yarra Ranges Council policies restricting use of protective hail nets."

No Minister, Yarra Ranges Council does not have a policy restricting the use of hail nets, we have a planning scheme that requires a permit to construct hail netting, but it doesn't say you can't have them.

This is Montagues Orchard in Lysterfield (in my ward). Their use of hail netting protects their crops, means they use less water and chemicals, have less contamination, they don't need to use bird/bat scarers and their netting also helps to stop sun damage. A great benefit for the agricultural industry.

The Minister went on to say, "For many growers, hail netting provides the best form of protection against hail, yet council policy limits orchardists in green wedge zones to covering a maximum of only 60 per cent of trees in hail nets, meaning almost half their orchard is left exposed to storms."

No Minister, Yarra Ranges Council does not have a policy limit covering 60% of trees, we do have guidelines that talk about 60% coverage of the site (not trees), however there's nothing to stop any grower for applying for 100% coverage of their orchard. Minister you must remember that site is the total farm and will most likely contain farm residences, farm sheds for equipment, packing sheds, cool rooms, driveways, etc so no farm will need 100% site coverage.

Further quotes from the Minister include, "It is wrong that Yarra Ranges Council thinks it is more important to give people in passing cars an unblemished green vista than to protect farmers. Farmers should have a right to protect their entire orchards and businesses."

No Minister, Yarra Ranges Council does think we should support farmers and they should have a right to protect their crops. Yarra Ranges Council has never refused an application for hail netting. We recognised a more contemporary approach to horticultural structures was needed when we endorsed our Green Wedge Management Plan in July 2010.

As recently as September 2011, we wrote to your government about the need to review the permit requirements associated with horticultural structures (this includes hail netting). We highlighted to your colleague the Minister for Planning that there are opportunities to investigate reducing the need for permits for horticultural structures.

Yes Minister, you could amend the planning scheme (we can't) and make it easier for our farmers, you could also think about letting them sell their value added produce at the farm gate too at the same time, because you wont let them do that either. That would be far more productive for our farmers than slamming the Planning Scheme, something the Yarra Ranges Council administers but can't change without the approval of government - that's you.

And as I said earlier, I have long been a supporter of hail netting, it's benefits are enormous, as far back as November 2008 I wrote about the issue (see blog 2/11/2008).

This is the hail netting (horticultural structure) that council approved back in 2008 in Coldstream at the gateway to the Yarra Valley, we haven't knocked back one application for hail netting yet. With 4 million visitors to Yarra Ranges every year there's plenty of people who drive past this.

In July 2008, council had to consider a hail netting application, you can read more about my support for here.

There's no question about the support for farmers from Yarra Ranges Council, perhaps we could see some positive changes from government too so we can support them even more.

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At 10:18 AM, Blogger Linda Laos said...

Good on you Samantha for setting the minister straight. After being in the job for over a year now you would think that the Minister would understand his portfolio. He needs to do his homework.

At 5:05 PM, Anonymous Jim mccrudden said...

You have to get a permit to cover the crops? Are you mad?
Your rebuttal was pure sophistry.

At 10:34 PM, Blogger Samantha Dunn said...

Hey Jim,
I'd like to see the planning scheme reflect current sophisticated farming approaches. Yarra Ranges Council would like to see the state government address this issue as stated in my original blog entry. You can call it sophistry if you like, but we don't have the power to just ignore the planning scheme, we'd like to see it changed. The state government does have the power to do something about it, so they should. Perhaps the Minister for Agriculture should chat to the Minister for Planning for a bit of a brush up on Planning 101.

At 10:35 PM, Blogger Samantha Dunn said...

Thanks Linda, it's staggering to hear such an outburst from a Minister, quite bizarre. A quick chat to the Minister for Planning should set him straight. Cheers, Samantha

At 11:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So if Yarra Ranges has never refused a permit to erect hail netting, what - apart from revenue raising - is the point of requiring permits?? Samantha, are you telling us the WHOLE TRUTH?
Jeni F

At 1:55 PM, Blogger Samantha Dunn said...

Hi Jeni F,
the point is our planning scheme requires farmers to lodge a planning permit - this requirement was implemented many years ago, before hail netting was used extensively (it was to cover off on things like igloos). Council has recognised this is a problem and has repeatedly asked governments to review this planning scheme requirement as it doesn't align with contemporary farming practices - all to no avail. We'd rather farmers didn't need to apply for a permit however the planning scheme is managed by the state government so perhaps you should ask them the question.
Happy to report this is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.


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