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The Queensland Government is allocating over $3.14 million in Rural Economic Development grants to 15 rural businesses to create jobs and boost agricultural infrastructure for regional Queensland.

Businesses from the Lockyer Valley, Southern Downs, Toowoomba, Goondiwindi, Bundaberg, Cassowary Coast, Cairns, Mareeba and the Tablelands have received up to $250,000 in co-contribution grants to purchase innovative equipment and build new infrastructure to create jobs and expand agricultural supply chains.

Queensland Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries, Mark Furner, said the latest round of RED Grant funding would provide a timely economic boost and help to build industry, support rural communities and grow employment opportunities across the agricultural sector.

“Creating jobs is at the heart of Queensland’s $8 billion plan for economic recovery, and the job supported by these grants will be a real shot in the arm to these communities,” Mr Furner said. 

“A wide range of fruit and vegetable processing and packaging facilities, a regional meatworks, nurseries and a bio manufacturing facility were among the successful businesses funded in this round.

“Some businesses will expand infrastructure to increase productivity, sustainability and energy efficiency, or improve post-harvest handling and new processing capability or develop new and more water efficient systems of farming in their industries.

“All the projects will create new jobs for regional Queensland. In total 251 direct full-time jobs will be created, another 90 during construction and 346 indirect full-time positions will need to be filled to make these projects come to life.”

Bratasha Farm at Applethorpe – 41 jobs

Bratasha Farm Director, Raymond Bertinazzi, said the funding would be used to expand its current protective growing facilities by two hectares.

“The funding we received will be used to construct an additional two-hectare high-tech, fully enclosed, climate-controlled cropping system, fitted with LED lighting to artificially extend the day length and circulation fans to improve ventilation,” Mr Bertinazzi said.

Mr Bertinazzi said that protective farming was becoming increasingly popular among horticulture farmers to influence the environment conditions their crops grow under.

“The protected cropping industry is the fastest growing food sector in Australia, with approximately 20 per cent of the value of total vegetable production in Australia now grown under protective structures.

“The results from this extensive research has confirmed there was a substantial increase in yield, noticeable improvement in product quality, reduction in chemical usage by up to 30 per cent, reduction in fertiliser by up to 15 per cent and a reduction in water consumption by nearly 30 per cent using protective cropping methods.”

The shift from paddock to protective cropping has provided Bratasha Farms with a greater return per hectare of production and an increase in demand for products.

Bratasha Farms will also use the RED Grant funding to construct a purpose-built greenhouse fabrication facility for other producers looking to build their own protective farming facilities.

“This will be the first of its kind in South East Queensland and will be an entirely new industry to the small rural community and will make the conversion to greenhouse production so much simpler for the other growers,” Mr Bertinazzi said.

The project is expected to create up to 41 direct and indirect jobs during and post construction.

Wickham Farms at Killarney – 24 jobs

Demand for convenient vegetable products, specifically potatoes, has allowed a family farm on the Southern Downs to invest in new infrastructure which will create local jobs and supply the first potatoes of their kind in Australia.

Wickham Family Farms has been operating for 60 years with sites at Killarney, Warwick, Gatton and the Atherton Tablelands but changing consumer demand means Director, Kerri-Ann Lamb, has had to adapt the business to suit changing market trends.

A new project is designed to broaden the market for Queensland potatoes, delivering to wholesale, quick service restaurants and food manufacturing companies an easy option, by having pre-cooked and chilled potato products.

The Pasteurised Potato Line project will utilise the existing advanced production line allowing Wickham Farms to provide a versatile cooking application, developing new products that have consistent quality, easy preparation, longer shelf life, and more suitable for food service and also to be exported, both interstate and internationally.

Ms Lamb said the products would deliver consistent quality, with a desirable shelf life, without compromising freshness.

“The end user will value the product’s versatility, reduced preparation time and waste,” Ms Lamb said.

“The new product also aligns with domestic and international demand and trend for value added convenience products which reduce labour costs and waste, ultimately saving the end user.”

The project will create 16 agricultural jobs, another four during construction as well as supporting four indirect jobs.

“Increasing opportunities for skilled labour in rural communities is rare, and this opportunity will create several new skilled roles,” Ms Lamb said.

Wickham Farms supplies whole brushed potatoes to supermarkets and fresh cut vegetables to food manufacturers, quick service restaurants, wholesale and food service.

Finlay Farming at Texas – 10 jobs

Brothers Dougal, John and Greg Finlay and their families operate Finlay Farming on an aggregation of farms, Emu Plains, south of Texas including intensive irrigated crops with a rotation of Lucerne hay, cotton, peanuts, ryegrass haylage and various other legumes.

Plans to move into supplying butternut and jap pumpkins and broccoli, along with a shortage of local workforce accommodation, has allowed the company to invest in new infrastructure to support an increase in production.

The funding will support an investment in extending the packing shed to a size that allows efficient processing of butternut and jap pumpkin and broccoli including washing, handling and storage. It will also involve staff accommodation to support local on-farm employment.

The project will also allow for flexibility for trial products in the future. Up to five new jobs will be created through the project, as well as three during construction and another two indirect roles.

CEO, Greg Finlay, said the project would enable them to expand production of butternut pumpkin over an earlier and extended period into target markets and had also added broccoli to their winter production schedule.

“We can also get more efficient at handling, washing and grading, with larger covered areas in the extended packing shed,” Mr Finlay said.

Mr Finlay said the project was dependent on local employment.

“There is a large increase in inputs and turnover in these high value crops. The inputs are acquired locally, and the project is only made possible by the additional staff,” Mr Finlay said.

“There is almost no accommodation available locally so living on-farm, it is important to have reliable staff available. 

“These employees then become a part of the local community and spend locally for their needs and activities on an ongoing basis.”

The Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority (QRIDA) administers the RED Grant scheme on behalf of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

For more information about the RED Grant scheme, click here.

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