Big boost for fruit industry

By Alana Christensen

A $55million state-of-the-art processing facility in Shepparton will employ more that 1300 people over five years and ensure apples and pears don’t go to waste.

The FRUITCo project includes a $15million investment from the Federal Government and further investment from fruit processing business Geoffrey Thompson.

Company director Peter Thompson said the new technology would revolutionise the packing process, and increase returns from the farm gate to fruit growers supplying domestic and export markets.

‘‘We hope to place orders imminently and hope to have first deliveries mid next year,’’ company director Peter Thompson said.

Federal Member for Murray Damian Drum said the investment would help address a loss of competitiveness on the world stage due to pack house abilities, with other countries ‘‘light years ahead’’.

‘‘We are very confident it’s going to be an incredible shot in the arm, a real boost for the orchardists in the Goulburn Valley. So we all understand how important it is, not just for the farmers on their land, but also with the flow-on industries associated with fruit right here in Shepparton,’’ he said.

‘‘Every piece of fruit, through a highly sophisticated packing and sorting arrangement, is going to find its way to its highest potential value.

‘‘We’re actually going to find people who might be growing fruit juice or might be going for pulp have an incredible bumper crop of beautiful fruit that might be out of use for fresh higher values.’’

The investment has the potential to boost Australia’s international competitiveness, and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the investment could reap an additional $50million in exports and a further $50million in ‘‘additional arrangements’’.

‘‘There’s been some modelling done and that modelling has shown that it’s about 1350 jobs (over the next five years) could be created directly and indirectly as a result of this investment now,’’ he said.

The project has received support from across the industry according to Mr Drum, who said written support for the facility had been received from 12 leading growers and orchardists in the region.

‘‘(They) effectively said ‘you build this and we will use it’, on a fee-for-service arrangement,’’ Mr Drum said.

A long-term agreement with SPC Ardmona to use the facility has also been secured.