Courier Mail, The (Brisbane), 25/10/2002, pg. 11

GRANITE Belt stone fruit will be scarce this Christmas as the drought forces growers to strip trees of fruit in the hope of saving orchards.

Fruit-pickers are picking unripe peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums to prevent trees becoming so water-stressed they die.

But the Queensland Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association yesterday said consumers would not be affected because fruit would be brought in from southern states.

Vineyards are also critically short of water and some growers are already cutting off some of this year’s crop in the hope of preserving vines until rain arrives.

Many Granite Belt farmers are out of water altogether and need rain in the next week or two.

Growers spared from bushfires that swept through the Ballandean and Glen Aplin districts, destroying $6.5 million in orchards and vineyards, are counting their blessings despite the water shortage.

Ballandean Estate winery owner Angelo Puglisi, whose grandfather established one of the district’s first wineries, is within four weeks of cutting developing grapes off his vines.

“That’s the only way to save the vines,” he said. “If there’s not enough water it’s better to drop the crops on the ground and save the vines.”

Mr Puglisi installed trickle irrigation in the early 1980s to save water and uses only two megalitres a hectare.

Despite his water-efficiency, the vineyard has one dam empty and two others with only enough water to last for four weeks.

Ballandean Estate reduced its crop in 1992 and 1997 because of water shortages but this year the season started drier than those years.

“We’ll reduce the crop by the end of November by 50 per cent and then by 50 per cent of the remainder in January unless it rains,” he said.

The Granite Belt Tourist Association has appealed for visitors to support the struggling district by visiting during the harvest season.

The association has launched a farmers’ market to be held on the third Sunday of each month from next month until April.

Copyright 2002 / Courier Mail