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AU: Faith in regions drives multimillion dollar citrus project
Six shipping containers of Australia’s world-leading citrus packing technology are sitting in a 10,000 square metre shed that for now lies empty. Next week, 36 more containers will start arrive and work will begin in earnest.
By April, the site will be transformed into a major facility capable of packing three million cartons of fruit a year in a multi-million dollar investment that is testament to one company’s faith in the future of the citrus industry and in regional Australia.
About 40 people are still to be hired to work in the state-of-the-art facility being built by Australian-owned citrus producer, Seven Fields. Many will be local, while others may move to the region, bring their families, set up homes and enrol in schools.
They will join four new Seven Field employees that have been brought on board for the project and be part of the major regional population growth flagged by Victoria’s Planning Minister Matthew Guy last weekend.
Seven Fields Managing Director Greg McMahon says it’s all about investing for the long-term and having faith in the future of the Sunraysia district.
“As growers we have to have a long-term focus. We have made a big investment in farms and trees that will continue to bear for a long time. We think differently to a trader.”
The past year has not been easy for citrus growers, but Mr McMahon says citrus is now well-placed to prosper.
“Australia has a unique advantage in accessing Asian markets. We can produce a sweeter, better quality piece of fruit than our Asian neighbours and I think there is still growth in the domestic market, particularly for mandarins.”
He admits the high Australian dollar is tough right now, but says now is the time investments ought be made. “It counter-cyclical: you invest now so you are there with the capacity when things right themselves again.
“We’re taking a risk, no doubt about it, but I am confident it will come back.”
Mr McMahon says assistance provided by the Victorian Government’s Business Flood Recovery Fund helped pave the way for the project.
“The grant of $500,000, which was offered in April, made all of the difference for us. Without that assistance, we could not have taken such a major step.”
The new shed will enable Seven Fields to trace its citrus from its location out in the field through to the box that is then sent to markets.
Right now that level of traceability is above and beyond that required for Australia’s markets. But traceability requirements are increasing constantly globally and Mr McMahon says making the move now means Seven Fields is prepared for when market demand a more sophisticated response.
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