SIMPLY NO WATER: John and Julie Pratt at Traprock Orchard have made the difficult decision to abandon this season's stone fruits to save the trees.
SIMPLY NO WATER: John and Julie Pratt at Traprock Orchard have made the difficult decision to abandon this season's stone fruits to save the trees. File

'Most challenging year in 35 years of farming'

DROUGHT-ravaged fruit growers have been forced to strip this year's developing crop because of a crippling shortage of water.

Traprock Orchard farmer John Pratt announced he would abandon his stone fruits to save the trees and has called for volunteers to help with picking.

Other growers of stone fruit and apples are also abandoning or demolishing some trees in order to ensure the survival of others.

Mr Pratt said he barely had one megalitre of water between his three dams, which had not had decent inflows since March 2017.

The crop would require at least one megalitre a day to recover and continue to fruition.

Mr Pratt said about 8000 stone fruit trees would have to be picked now because the fruit was the size of an olive. Another 20,000 trees would require stripping in the next month or so.

Mr Pratt said all up it would take 10 volunteers a full month.

"This is the fifth year in a row we have had a disaster in our orchard,” he said.

"It is proving to be the most challenging we have experienced in our 35 years of farming.”

Mr Pratt said he and wife Julie were trying "every avenue” to continue the farm.

"We have had several locals helping already and it's very humbling and greatly appreciated,” he said.

Granite Belt Growers Association president Angus Ferrier said stone farmers would be making their decisions soon while apple growers had a bit more time.

He said farmers could lose an entire season's income but making the decision at the right time would save the costs associated with harvesting and packing.

"The opportunity to grow a good crop is narrowing the longer we go without rain,” Mr Ferrier said.

"People will hopefully make a decision sooner to avoid the costs even though they won't see a return.

"Whether they pull the fruit, prune heavily, push over the trees - either way they are drawing a line under the costs.”

However Mr Ferrier said there was also a risk in making a call too early then getting rain, potentially missing a good season.

Mr Ferrier said he had already demolished some trees and abandoned others, meaning he was no longer resourcing the plants.

"I've got a bit of water so I feel I can grow 50 per cent and I'll probably abandon 25per cent and demolish 25per cent,” he said.

Mr Ferrier said it was hard to quantify whether the local farming impact would have a broader knock-on effect to the consumer.

To volunteers as a fruit picker visit Traprock Orchard's Facebook page.

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