NEW JOBS: Ground-breaking citrus innovation comes to region
GROWING delicious fruit is hard enough at the best of times, as any producer worth his or her salt knows.
But it's only half the battle: they also need to get it quickly and efficiently on to supermarket shelves.
This has been a decades-long struggle for Gayndah's Dermark Pty Ltd, which added citrus growing and packing to its portfolio about 20-years-ago.
Dermark's directors Helen and Sandy McLay experience added costs on pre-packing, transport and quick chilling to get their produce to supermarket shelves, but new technology will allow production to happen right here.
The company is one of 15 businesses across Queensland to receive a $250,000 Rural Economic DevelopmentGrant, which they will use to create a new facility, FreshConnect.
This facility will help local producers cut costs to pack their produce before sending it to the supermarket in 'Grab N Go' lines.
"The Wide Bay and Burnett region does not currently have a pre-packing, automated sorting or quick chilling facility available for local growers," Mr McLay said.
"The only option is for us and other growers to truck our local produce to Brisbane and beyond..
"The new facilities will save our growers more than half a million dollars per harvest season which would otherwise be spent on a third party packing service.
"Most of this money will return into our local communities.
"Instead of shipping our produce to Brisbane for pre-packing and chilling by a competitor we will value add by pre-packing on farm which will reduce our costs, our carbon footprint and stimulate local businesses."
Pre-packing and chilling produced locally will also save producers valuable shelf life on their produce.
"We use competitors to pre-pack our produce which means they prioritise their own fruit over ours when it comes to packing and shipping to the supermarket," Mr McLay said.
"This means days could go by before our fruit even reaches the supermarket, risking spoilage of the fruit.
"Losing days of shelf life through this process can really affect our sales as customers are very conscious of packed dates.
"The quicker we can get our produce from the farm to the shelf the better. I'm sure city people endorse this fact.
"During off peak season the pre-packing and quick chill facilities will also be able to support other crops grown in our area such as avocado, berry and mango."
The project will create new employment opportunities in the local area with an increased need for fruit pickers and packing staff required to carry out the operations of the new facility.
"The project is bringing something new to the region and it will require 10 to 12 new permanent and casual positions," Mr McLay said.
"We are going to need a manager, administration officer, quality assurance officer, mechanic, forklift driver, store person and additional fruit sorters and packers.
"Without the support of the grant from the government this is a project that would have been another 20 years away."
Funding for round two of the RED Grants will be announced later this year.
The Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority administer the RED Grant scheme on behalf of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
For more information about the RED Grant scheme visit www.qrida.qld.gov.au.