Courier Mail, The (Brisbane), 02/06/2005, pg. 11

MATURE fruit orchards are dying in the Lockyer Valley because of drought and several years of severe frosts that are now forcing farmers to think of quitting.

At Grantham, at the top of the Lockyer Valley about 100km west of Brisbane, 25-year-old avocado trees that should be at peak production and laden with fruit ready for harvesting are dead or dying.
There is not one fruit on any tree.

As dry weather continues, the trees are losing leaves and several have died — their bare branches reaching to the unrelenting blue sky.

“Frost weakened them and the drought killed them,” fruit grower Rod Dalton said yesterday.

Mr Dalton, a qualified plant breeder, has not made a profit on his avocado, stone fruit, persimmon and fig-growing operation since 1998 and cannot qualify for drought support.

“Unlike cattle, we can’t agist trees,” he said.

Replacements can’t be planted until the drought breaks, and even they would take another seven years to produce fruit.

As chairman of the Australian Avocado Growers Association and chairman of the Lockyer Valley Fruit Growers Association, Mr Dalton fears for the future of the district.

“This is the third year in a row we’ve had no fruit. The trees have no energy to build flower buds,” he said.

This orchard of 1250 avocado trees normally produces 125 tonnes of fruit a year valued at $500,000, but it has produced nothing for three years.

Copyright 2005 / Courier Mail