Farmers battle zone fight
THE Cudgen farming community has hit back after a decade-old petition resurfaced which saw farmers urge the State Government to rezone Cudgen farmland, saying it was no longer of state significance.
In the petition, first submitted to Tweed Shire Council and the NSW Government in June 2008, Cudgen landowners urged the State Government to rezone their land as residential, saying it was “struggling to maintain the worthiness of its State Significant classification”.
“It should no longer be considered sustainable or viable as farmland,” the petition read.
Reasons listed included the “over supply” of sweet potatoes at market which resulted in “reduced returns”, in addition to “escalating rental costs” and the “Cudgen plateau’s drainage network being overgrown”.
The petition is in stark contrast to the Cudgen farmers’ current situation, which has much of the community fighting against the decision to build the new Tweed Valley Hospital on prime agricultural land.
One of the signatures on the petition was that of Doug Paddon, who has been a driving force behind the hospital fight, along with his son James and his daughterin-law Hayley.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard told the Tweed Daily News it was “very difficult to reconcile what Mr Paddon is arguing when he wanted the area covered in residential properties” 10 years ago.
“Mr Paddon said the land was unviable as farmland, but today has a different view, which is that it’s now land that has a particular agricultural value,” Mr Hazzard said.
When asked about signing the petition, Mr Paddon said his “hands were tied” as he was renting land from someone involved in the petition at the time.
“I didn’t want to rock the boat and lose the ground I had because it was pretty good ground,” he said.
Mr Paddon said there were three reasons he had since done a “backflip”.
He said a bad drought 10 years ago meant farmers had lost the ability to plant more crops, while the Beauregard type of sweet potato they were growing at the time took three years to grow, compared to the two it takes now with a different variety.
An expensive new bore water system also meant his farm no longer needed to rely on its dam catchment.
Mr Paddon said most of the people signed the petition to “get a higher price for their land” because “they weren’t interested in farming on”.
He said most of those farmers had now sold their land and moved on.
“Most of those farmers that signed it didn’t have a generation to pass it on to, but now we’ve got a lot of young farmers all around 40 years old that are keen to farm on,” Mr Paddon said.
“Those farmers back then probably didn’t jump the hoops in terms of keeping the farms viable, they were reluctant to buy new tractors and other gear, the money we’ve put in is frightening: hundreds of thousands to stay viable.”
Meanwhile, a second community meeting to discuss the site selection will be held at 7pm on Thursday, April 26 at Cudgen Leagues Club. Federal MP Justine Elliot, state MP Geoff Provest and Tweed Shire Councillors are expected to attend.
Organiser Hayley Paddon said she was “happy” council had “gotten on board” and voted last week to request of the NSW Government “in the strongest terms” the chosen site be excluded from the selection process. She said she was unaware until last week of the petition her father-in-law had signed: “I wasn’t even aware of the document and my signature wasn’t on it.” - By Rick Koenig
FIGHTING BACK: Hayley, James and Doug Paddon are the farmers leading the charge against the new hospital being sited on farm land at Cudgen.