ALTERNATES: Mary Valley persimmon and stone fruit farmers Heinz and Angela Gugger have to net their fruit to stop attacks by flying foxes.
ALTERNATES: Mary Valley persimmon and stone fruit farmers Heinz and Angela Gugger have to net their fruit to stop attacks by flying foxes. Craig Warhurst

Fruit bats hit Mary Valley crops

FRUIT bats, or flying foxes as they are more commonly known, have been the enemy of fruit farmers for years.

Heinz and Angela Gugger, who own Mary Valley Orchards, said they had lost an entire crop of nectarines last season to the threatened species.

But they did not think shooting them was the answer.

Meanwhile the Bundaberg Orchardists Association has said it will soon vote on whether or not it would launch a class action against the state government's ban on shooting flying foxes.

Association president John Kajewski has said the ban, which started in 2008, meant growers now had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect their crops, but these were often ineffective.

If the class action was supported in Wide Bay, Mr Kajewski vowed to take it statewide.

But Mr Gugger said there was no point in shooting flying foxes.

THE Guggers spent a whole week placing 17km of netting over their persimmon and nectarine crops to protect them from flying foxes and other wildlife.

Out on Amamoor Creek Rd they have about 17hectares of fruit trees.

They wait until the last possible minute to put netting over the nectarines, as the fruit has the potential to grow through the netting, rendering it ineffective.

Last season they checked the crop every day for the first signs of flying fox invasion.

“We checked them the Friday night, the next day they were gone. The flying foxes ate them all,” Mr Gugger said.

The Guggers have never shot the bats as a method to control them.

Five years ago they did not have to net the fruit, but every year since then the flying foxes have increased in numbers.

And it wasn't just the fruit that was affected; the flying foxes also broke off new shoots and branches.

“They take the whole fruit and in the process damage the other fruit.

“The net stops them to a certain point. It's a big expense and effort.”

“But you shoot 10, there's going to be 10 more.”

Mrs Gugger said she did not know if the bats' increasing orchard feasts were a result of them losing their natural habitat.

The farmers said the cost of fruit had not changed but the cost of production had gone up.

There was no compensation, they said, even when their crops had been destroyed.

Mrs Gugger suggested the government help farmers by providing subsidies to pay for alternative methods of keeping flying foxes at bay.

She said lighting was expensive and not a great alternative as it was so bright “neighbours would have to go to bed with sunglasses on”.

Bundaberg Orchardists Association president John Kajewski said nets were useless because flying foxes landed on them in huge numbers and in some instances chewed their way through.

He said it was a joke and a huge cost.

The best way to stop the bats, he has said, was to shoot the scouts or early arrivals.

That way the bats could not go back to the colony and bring back hundreds more. Mr Kajewski said farmers were not trying to wipe out entire colonies.

The Gympie Times' efforts to contact local Wildcare representatives before print were unsuccessful.

Gympie Times


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