AFTER suffering the most devastating frost in 50 years, wine grape growers have been denied disaster relief.
The Area News revealed some farmers lost their entire vineyards in last week’s black frost and were dreading calls from bank managers.
It was still too early to determine exactly how much of the region’s grapes had been wiped out, but early estimations suggest the figure will be close to 20 per cent.
CEO of the Riverina Wine Grapes Marketing Board (WGMB) Brian Simpson said there was no provision at state or federal government level for disaster relief as a result of frost.
“We could potentially have lost more grapes in the Riverina than the rest of the state produces in total,” Mr Simpson said.
“I’ve spoken to growers who have been farming for 50 years and they’ve never seen a frost this bad.
“The DPI said there’s no disaster relief for victims of a frost, there are categories of eligibility for victims of flood, fires or storm but frost isn’t on their list.”
Mr Simpson encouraged frost-ravaged farmers to seek benefits from Centrelink under hardship provisions, but in a cruel twist of fate, farmers trying to make ends meet could be penalised for their entrepreneurship.
“A lot of growers have gone off the farm in the past couple of years for a second source of income to supplement the declining return on grapes, which may in fact make them ineligible,” Mr Simpson said.
“Farmers would need to enquire themselves, but their eligibility through Centrelink depends on a complex assessment of their assets and losses.”
Winemakers have been sympathetic with grape growers but were pessimistic about the likelihood of increased grape prices despite the heavy losses. The grower services manager of Casellas Wine Luke Edwards said the highly variable effects of the frost were making it difficult to quickly assess the damage.
“Because yields were going to be 12 per cent above average this year, the extensive damage caused by the frost will only take the yield down to 10 per cent below average, which means a significantly positive effect on price is unlikely,” Mr Edwards said.
“But we can’t yet be sure of the extent of the damage because the frost killed portions of crops rather than whole acres at a time, so naturally it takes longer to assess the situation.”
The Riverina Wine Grapes Marketing Board appealed to farmers for details of their losses via phone on 6962 3944 or by going to their office at 182 Yambil Street, Griffith.