Maroota farmers fear ruin if fruit bat cull ends

Protecting their livelihood: Stone fruit orchardists John and Philip Ramm, of Maroota, said if farmers were burdened with the cost of netting, local growers would be forced out of the industry and Australians would have to accept that their fruit would come from overseas. Picture Carlos Furtado

FARMERS say they face bankruptcy because of a state government program to phase out the culling of flying foxes.
The state government's flying-fox netting subsidy program will put an end to culling by 2014 and offer a 50 per cent subsidy on the installation of netting, up to $20,000 a hectare.

But at a time when farmers have received some of the lowest prices for fruit in almost two decades, orchardists say they will be forced to sell-up.

Philip and John Ramm, third generation farmers who own a 40-hectare stone fruit orchard in Maroota, said they simply can't afford it.

"You've got to understand that 90 per cent of our income is already going into cost and we're not profiting at the moment," Philip Ramm said.

Mr Ramm said culling was close to 90 per cent effective with other methods — including baiting and netting — riddled with problems.

"If a farmer opens up the netting to work underneath it and ducks or kookaburras get underneath — what happens to those birds," Mr Ramm said.

He said wildlife, including bats, were at risk of getting caught up when nets began to sag.

Farmers must have crops assessed for substantial damage before they can apply for a culling licence.

The state government ensures the licences — typically allowing the culling of 25 bats — remain within a statewide quota, while farmers who apply for a netting subsidy are precluded from culling licences.

Environmental groups oppose culling but the Ramms argue it is one of the most humane crop protection methods.

"Farmers really are the ultimate greenie," Mr Ramm said.

"Opponents say you want to just wipe out bats, but I have no interest in wiping out bats at all — my only interest is in making a living."

Nationals MLC Rick Colless facilitated a meeting between the farmers and Minister for Primary Industries Katrina Hodgkinson to discuss their concerns.

"Netting places a large financial burden on [ farmers]," Mr Colless said.

"Licences [to cull] are still available but on the basis that there must first be substantial damage which then needs to be assessed."

Mr Colless says farmers are fighting to maintain their licences and lobby for faster permit times so they can cull "scouts" who lead the pack searching for food.

He said with this method only eight or 10 bats would need to be culled.

"Farmers are only concerned with protecting their crops — they have a responsibility and a right to protect their crop," he said.


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BATS. Megabats, Flying-foxes, Fruit bats and Microbats: Maroota farmers fear ruin if fruit bat cull ends
Maroota farmers fear ruin if fruit bat cull ends
BATS. Megabats, Flying-foxes, Fruit bats and Microbats
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