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Orchardists assess damage

Orchardist Greg Mouat with federal agriculture minister Bridget McKenzie and deputy PM Michael McCormack.

Orchardists around Batlow are in the process of assessing the damage and beginning the long clean up from Saturday’s fire.

Greg Mouat, whose farm on Batlow Road was impacted, described the scene simply: “It’s just a big, bloody mess.”

“It’s probably more work than I expected. There’s more damage to trees and netting. A lot of the irrigation is burned and needs replacing.”

He’s grateful his home remains, as does his roadside store.

But an equipment shed, which housed compressors, pruning and picking gear, and more, went in the blaze.

It’s early days, but he estimates about 25 per cent of his trees are lost, including a main block of Kanzi, which was in full production.

“I had a beautiful crop there, it had all been thinned,” Mr Mouat said. “We’d spent all the money on it.”

Some orchardists had fared comparatively well, Mr Mouat said.

“There’s good news and bad news around,” he said. “It’s too early to say how many trees around Batlow have been impacted. It might be 10 per cent or more. A lot of people are still shellshocked.”

Just down the road, Ralph Wilson’s Wilgro orchard reported damage to hail netting, about 10-15 per cent of trees, various sheds, dripper pipes, and cider making equipment, as well as the rest of last year’s cider yet to be bottled.

Importantly for growers, the Batlow Fruit infrastructure in town remains undamaged, with the company able to secure generators to keep the cool store operational, allowing growers with fruit to store, pack and market those goods.

Mr Mouat said the apple growers will need assistance.

“Apart from cashflow, there’s the debt most growers already have,” he said. “I don’t think it’s right farmers should have to increase their debt levels as a result of this.

“I’ll be interested to see what the three tiers of government come up with.”