General News

16 June, 2023

Biosecurity fears reduce project size

A new workers’ accommodation project for a farm near Mareeba has been reduced in capacity after biosecurity concerns were raised by a neighbouring banana plantation.

Biosecurity fears reduce project size - feature photo

 A new workers’ accommodation project for a farm near Mareeba has been reduced in capacity after biosecurity concerns were raised by a neighbouring banana plantation. 

Dusty Nuts Pty Ltd, on Vicary Road, was originally planning to establish an accommodation facility for up to 72 workers over three stages as well as a manager’s residence, but after concerns were raised by the adjoining banana plantation, the project has been reduced to the delivery of Stage 1 only. 

The project will now only cater to 24 farm workers as well as a manager’s residence. One of the existing buildings on the property will be transformed into accommodation for 12 workers, with six twin-share modular “donga” style buildings to house the remaining workers, in addition to an undercover common area and communal amenities. 

The only objection to the development came from Rock Ridge Farming which is one of the largest farming businesses on the Tablelands and one of the largest employers of non-resident workers in the region. 

While the owners acknowledged the “desperate need” for workers accommodation, they objected to the development due to the threat of Panama disease, advising that it would take just “one speck of infected soil to contaminate an entire farm”, devastating the banana plants. 

“Once in the soil, it is non-eradicable and the fungus remains active in the soil for decades, even without banana plants present, making the land unsuitable to produce bananas or most other crops indefinitely,” the owners said in their submission to council. 

“The proposed development’s close proximity to our banana plants poses an unreasonable amount of risk that contaminated soil could enter the paddock. 

“A worker arriving from Tully or the Northern Territory (where there are confirmed cases of Panama) could bring in contaminated soil on their shoes or luggage. This soil could easily be spread to our banana paddock (less than 10m away from the proposed accommodation buildings) by wind or rainwater as all the water runoff from the lot flows directly into our banana paddock.” 

The submission also questioned whether the land on which the accommodation facility would be established was big enough to provide workers with the recreational area they would need, and that could force workers to come onto their property. 

They also pointed out that aerial spraying with fungicide and insecticide was carried out each fortnight for their Lady Finger bananas. 

“Whilst our operators take every precaution and adhere to strict rules and regulations, given the close proximity of the proposed development to the banana crop, it would only take a small wind change to cause drift across the property,” the submission said. 

“Additionally, we feel there is an insufficient buffer zone between the proposed accommodation and the existing banana trees. In addition to aerial spraying, regular ground spraying is conducted across the farm. 

“Given most spraying is done out of regular work hours, we feel that this could cause potentially catastrophic consequences and poses an unacceptable risk to the workers’ health and wellbeing.” 

Council ended up approving the development but not before Cr Locky Bensted said he was still conflicted about the project because Panama disease was such a “huge risk” for the neighbouring farm. 

“It wasn’t comfortable with the 72 workers and I’m still conflicted because you have workers from different farms coming into this site,” he said. 

He wanted a guarantee that people would be made aware not to trespass onto the neighbouring property. 

“We are conditioning (the approval) with a fence which will stop that to some extent – it comes down to communication between the onsite manager and the workers not to wander through areas where they shouldn’t be,” Senior planner Brian Millard said. 

Deputy Mayor Cr Kevin Davies was also still concerned about the risk of Panama entering the banana plantation and would have preferred “another step” that would give comfort that workers would not go onto the farm. 

“I’m happy the fence is staying and going right to the boundary – if Panama gets onto that farm there’s their livelihood gone,” he said. 

“I would be happy if we had another step possibly to enforce that they do not go onto that farm because we don’t want Panama spreading in this community on our farms.” 

Mr Millard said he felt council had done everything they could to prevent that happening. 

“Altogether, I think we’re comfortable that we’re doing everything reasonable to stop that occurring,” he said.  


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