The peak industry body for the Australian vegetable and potato industry, AUSVEG, has urged the state government to prioritise the biosecurity risk of the proposed Crookwell-Goulburn rail trail project.
The proponents, Crookwell-Goulburn Rail Trail Inc (CGRT), have so far gained the support of the Upper Lachlan Shire Council and the Goulburn Mulwaree Council and awaits direction from the Department of Planning and Environment.
In a letter to the Department of Premier and Cabinet early this year, AUSVEG CEO James Whiteside highlighted the significance of Crookwell farmers in the certified seed potato industry, and warned of the danger in pests and diseases.
“AUSVEG strongly encourages the NSW government to undertake a biosecurity risk assessment. Should such a risk assessment be undertaken and the rail trail be approved, development and implementation of a rail trail biosecurity plan should be the next step,” Mr Whiteside wrote.
“AUSVEG acknowledges that the railway plans to run on a fortnightly schedule in an attempt to control the impact of the rail trail to agricultural land. However, there appears to be no such consideration for restrictions on visitors to the rail trail to create a buffer between it and seed potato farmers.”
Crookwell seed potato are generated from pathogen-tested mini-tuber stocks.
Multiplied in the field of four years, the crop is independently assessed by seed and potato certification inspectors.
As part of the 2017 NSW Biosecurity regulation, materials such as bins, machinery and equipment are restricted from the area where the potatoes are grown in order to manage the risk of disease transmission.
Pest outbreaks can result in “severe regional economic impacts”, Mr Whiteside continued.
CGRT deputy chair Paul Culhane said the group had engaged with the adjoining land holders and recorded their comments, citing the large turnout of the public forum organised by the department in January.
“We are very mindful of farmer concerns and biosecurity risks which must be managed for the project to proceed,” Mr Culhane said.
“The overwhelming response to the proposal has been positive however there are certainly those against it or people who have legitimate concerns that need to be worked through should the proposal get to the next stage.”
He said a study on the biosecurity risks conducted in the Murray, in participation with the NSW Farmers Federation, was relevant to the CGRT moving forward.
He listed livestock crossing points, bushfire and weed risks as other significant issues that are being taken seriously by the CGRT.
Third generation farmer Kim Weir said if the right planning was not put in place it could be the end for Crookwell seed potato growers.
“It puts us and other growers at risk,” he said. “How can they support our concerns when they’re in favour of [the project]?”
The mixed farmer estimates he crosses the trail, which cuts through his land, about 10-12 times a day.
He added the trail could also result in mental health issues among farmers, and should also be factored into the conversation.