FINAL HARVEST: Graham Minifie, owner of Cherry Park at The Summit, said the drought finally proved too much for his fruit trees. Picture: contributed
FINAL HARVEST: Graham Minifie, owner of Cherry Park at The Summit, said the drought finally proved too much for his fruit trees. Picture: contributed

‘IT WAS A LIFE’S WORK’: Drought claims decades-old orchard

THE protracted drought crippling the Southern Downs has forced one of the region's most prominent fruit orchards to close down for good.

For years on end, Cherry Park owner Graham Minifie has been battling against brutal growing conditions, and was devastated to see the drought finally claim his life's work.

"We're closing after over 30 years. There will be no more commercially sold cherries from Cherry Park, ever," Mr Minifie said.

"The trees just couldn't get water, and we unfortunately weren't in a position to purchase it, so they basically just died.

"It was over a period of time, but after the last six to eight months we've been seeing tree deaths on a daily basis, which has led to the situation we're in now."

While the coronavirus had undoubtedly impacted the agricultural sector as a whole, Mr Minifie said it had only taken much-needed attention and funding away from the drought.

"I think the problem is that the drought has been around and talked about for so long, it's become sort of accepted," he said.

"So, with COVID coming through as the new news, these other things have taken a backwards position.

"I'm sure we're not the only ones. We can only speak for ourselves, of course, but I'm sure there's people out there who are the same or worse-off."

However, Mr Minifie said he was determined to take a positive away from the experience, and had taken the opportunity to launch a new horticultural business called 'Protec Plus'.

"We do protective canopies across horticultural and rural scenarios, and with our patented design, we're going to be doing storage areas for evaporation control," he said.

"On a yearly basis, the ground loses about 30 per cent of its evaporation storage just from the sun, whereas with a shade cloth on it you minimise that to just a few per cent.

"That was a huge issue and a major part of our water loss, so we saw the opportunity there to expand on our beliefs by doing it ourselves and setting up a business to help."

While the product has about three months of testing before it will be completely released onto the market, Mr Minifie said it was looking promising enough to cover the gap left by Cherry Park's closure.

"We could see what was going to happen with the trees, so we decided we needed to take a step sideways and find something else," Mr Minifie said.

"We still have about three months to finalise our design system, just to make sure there's no little errors we've missed before we go large-scale.

"These trials are being done locally in Stanthorpe, which is good, and the local grower support means a lot to us."



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