Sutton's Juice Factory and Cidery is one of the Granite Belt businesses reliant on fresh produce for its livelihood.
Sutton's Juice Factory and Cidery is one of the Granite Belt businesses reliant on fresh produce for its livelihood. File

Southern Downs business at situation critical

STANTHORPE businesses who rely on local farmers for their produce are adamant they will continue to create their products for their livelihoods and for the region's tourism industry.

And they are united in wanting visitors to the region to know they are not running out of produce but they need their custom.

For businesses which are both growers and producers like Ballandeen Estate Wines and Sutton's Juice Factory and Cidery the situation is twice as challenging.

Ballandeen Estate Wines have reached a critical stage in their grape growing where the decision has to be made on the direction they will take on the season's crop.

Finance manager Robyn Henderson said apart from a two-week reprieve due to recent rains the business has recently been trucking in water to irrigate its 100-acre vineyard.

"We've just been watering to keep our vineyard alive and hopefully it'll rain and we'll have a crop," she said.

"The ones in real danger are our oldest vineyard and our babies (3-5 years). Our 51-year-old shiraz is more stressed than the others.

"We don't know if we will get a crop next year."

Ms Henderson said they couldn't afford to spend hundreds of thousands to truck water for the entire season but if they can't give it water through the entire season they won't make it to the end.

If there is no rain they may have to take grapes off the vines so they are less stressed and have a better chance of survival, she said. Not going ahead with a crop would mean a loss of jobs for backpackers who they employ for about 20-30 days across the season.

The business is currently bottling wine produced from its 2018 crop. It will be their 2020 wines that will be affected by the drought.

Ms Henderson said if their crop doesn't eventuate they would buy in grapes from outside in order to provide for their customers and maintain tourism.

"We don't want tourism to die," she said. "We don't want another industry in town to die."

With visitor numbers to Ballandean having dropped 25 per cent in September, Ms Henderson said reports of drought and fires had stopped tourists from travelling to the area.

David Sutton of Sutton's Juice Factory and Cidery agrees the downturn in visitor numbers is a problem in the area.

The problem is fewer visitors to the area, he said.

"People are staying away. They've heard about the fires and the drought. We need to encourage them to come and visit."

Mr Sutton said their current supplies of cider were made in February and with the benefit of water on their property from a well they guaranteed their future supplies.

"We won't run out, that won't happen," he said. "We have sufficient water. We have a good crop. We'll get the produce we need," he said.

When Mr Sutton began farming at Stanthorpe 25 years ago he spent a lot of money ensuring a water supply.

"We have wells. We've never over-committed. We just have to be careful."

Mr Sutton takes a long-term view to the drought.

"We have a drought. It makes it difficult but like everything it'll run it's course. We've got to look on the positive side," he said.

Mr Sutton remembers being at school in Warwick in 1965 when the drought meant there was no water in the dams, no crops and no stock.

"We probably think in the small cycle. We have to think in the large cycle," he said.

"The good thing about the area is it has an amazing ability to bounce back quickly."

Jamworks owner Stephanie Ingall who produces jams and chutneys from local produce doesn't yet know what fruit and vegetables will be available locally but knows her produce will continue to be made.

She said her jams and chutneys were still being produced from previous seasons and it was too early in the season to determine local crop outcomes but produce would be sourced.

She said crops may be smaller than in other years but if need be she could source tomatoes from Victoria. It would still be Australian produce, she said.

To encourage outsiders to spend in the region a group and raise awareness of the availability of local produce a group of 12-13 local wineries have united through a promotion called Wine for Water.

Ms Henderson said the Wine for Water promotion was offering buyers six local wines with a percentage of profits going towards Granite Belt drought assistance.

More information on Wine for Water can be found on the websites on participating wineries including Ballandean Estate Wine.

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