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Fruit and forestry get fire recovery cash

Wineries in the Adelaide Hills and apple farmers in Batlow devastated by the summer bushfires will be able to use $86 million in new government grants to help replant and get back on their feet.

The federal government is announcing three new sector-specific grants programs on Tuesday, to support forestry, vineyards and apple growers struck by the fires.

Apple growers will share $31 million in grants of $120,000 a hectare, complementing a NSW government program.

Apple and Pear Australia estimates the bushfires caused $72 million in damage across the three main apple growing regions – Batlow and Bilpin in NSW and Adelaide Hills in South Australia – and wiped out about a fifth of the nation’s apple trees. 

Each hectare can cost $342,000 to regrow.

Batlow, which was the worst hit, is in the Eden-Monaro electorate that faces a by-election on July 4.

The opposition welcomed the funding but criticised the timing.

“Finally, Scott Morrison realises bushfire-hit industries have been decimated and need support,” Labor senator Murray Watt said.

“Why did it take a by-election for him to realise?”

Smoke-affected wineries which have had to dump harvests will share a $5 million grant pool, with grape producers required to match grants of up to $10,000 each.

It’s been estimated that 60,000 tonnes of grapes have been lost from the 2020 harvest because of smoke taint, on top of the 700-800 hectares of vines that were burnt.

The government will also set up a $40 million fund for forestry recovery projects to help producers deal with expected wood supply shortages through innovating or diversifying their products.

Another $10 million will be used to set up storage facilities for processed timber products, fire-affected logs and other forestry products.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the overall aim was to help communities “build back better”.

“As our communities battle to overcome the effects of drought, bushfires and now COVID-19, it’s initiatives like these that will also help accelerate economic recovery and ultimately deliver more jobs to the regions,” he said in a statement.

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