Heat and drought wreak havoc on lavender crop

THE purple harvest has finished but there’s still a striking bloom of lavender fields around Bendemeer.

Banalasta, the lavender and eucalyptus farm on the northern side of the village, has taken off one crop and is about to finish another.

Both of them, like rural production everywhere around here, have been hit by the heat this harvest.

Rolf Blickling, the master grower of the north’s only commercial lavender crop, which is now also organically certified, and owner of the biggest eucalyptus oil plantings in the country, says both crops have suffered.

And like other vineyards, his 10 hectares of grapes are also reeling from the weather.

The extreme heat of last year, particularly through spring, knocked his lavender crop around, affected the amount of oil in the plants and ultimately reduced production by about one-sixth of a typical year.

Banalasta completed the harvest in January, bringing in only 10 kilograms this year from the three-hectare commercial plantings across two fields. 

His best harvest in the 14 years he’s been at Bendemeer was 110kg a couple of years ago. While lavender likes it hot, it doesn’t like the heatwave conditions, and it needs rain at periodic times – just not before harvest.

The heads produce the oil, which is made into soaps, aromatherapy and skincare products, like lavender spray.

“We harvest one day and distill the next, and it is steam distilling, rather than cold-press,” Mr Blickling said.

He’s a couple of weeks away from finishing the eucalyptus, but the story’s much the same there too; he’s expecting only about half of what he normally gets.

He’s a firm believer in climate change – not just because of his harvest slumps – and is a long-time devotee of water being the way of the future.

So when he first fixed on Bendy as his abode, he also planned for his farming future, building three huge dams on the property.

On one, his 1.2km lake, he sails a catamaran for pleasure. The others complement what has become a tourist destination too.

Banalasta has a visitors’ centre overlooking the lavender fields and features weekend music afternoons for tourists as well.

Tomorrow it will also play host to the Channel 7 magazine show Sydney Weekender.

Presenter Mike Whitney will turn the spotlight on the farm, where the lavender still blooms around the centre and presents a spectacular sea of purple.

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