PMA Fresh Connections Brisbane 2016

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This year’s PMA Fresh Connections took place in Brisbane from the 17th – 19th May. The Conference was opened by Senator Anne Ruston, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources who spoke about what the sector must do to make Australia competitive across both the domestic and international markets. The ‘other’ Michael Jackson, a specialist on the subject of change in a business context, spoke about the road ahead, innovation and how we need to look for uniqueness in our businesses. Other speakers included Tom Kierath from Morgan Stanley, Mark Soccio from the Rabobank, Fi Bendall from the Bendalls Group, Malcom Keys from Hong Kong based Dragon Trend and Chris Cowan from Kantar World Panel as well as Bryan Silberman PMA and Micheal Worthington PMA AU/NZ who gave an interesting view into the state of the Industry.

Day two saw Costa participate in the Trade Show, showcasing our produce and categories, alongside a number of exhibitors from across the fresh produce industry. There was also a program of events including the Marketer of the Year award as well as a number of ‘meet the expert’ group discussions. Day two concluded with the Gala dinner at the Brisbane Town Hall which was enjoyed by all. The third and final day was host to a number special interest forums and tours.

Costa Opens Guyra Tomato Glasshouse No. 3

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Situated north of Guyra, NSW, MLC Scot Macdonald, on behalf of the premier, Mike Baird, officially opened Costa’s third tomato glasshouse on Thursday, 28th April 2016. The large scale development brings the total area that Costa has under glass in the Guyra area to 30 hectares, spread over two sites.

The $60 million development is now at fully operating capacity with a workforce of 170 people required to grow, harvest and pack more than 210 million snacking tomatoes grown per year. The development involved construction of 10 hectares of glasshouse and has the capacity to continue and expand to 20 hectares in the future.

Mr MacDonald noted the importance of Costa’s investment to the economic development of the region and commented that it was an ‘excellent example of business investment in regional New South Wales that will have real and lasting benefit.’

“What Costas have done is not talk about regional development, but deliver regional development,” Mr MacDonald said.  “The NSW Government through the Department of Industry and Guyra Council have been supportive and provided some assistance, but it is Costa that have developed the business plan; secured finance; taken the risk and gotten on with the job of building a significant, expanding enterprise making a material difference to this town and this region.”

Joining with Mr MacDonald to open the glasshouse, Mr George Haggar, Costa Group’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) said that together with Costa’s existing 20 hectares located in Elm Street Guyra, Costa now provides employment for more than 500 people and generates significant economic activity in the Guyra and New England region.

“I want to thank and acknowledge the New South Wales Government and Guyra Council for their support in helping to make this investment a reality,” Mr Haggar said.  “I also want to make special mention of our local Costa people and the fact that over the decade or more that we have been operating in Guyra our workforce and key local people have done an outstanding job in establishing Costa as leader in protected cropping and glasshouse horticulture.”


Raspberry Fields Forever – Northern Valleys News

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The following article appeared in the Northern Valleys News, issue 61.

Raspberry fields Forever

By Tamieka Preston, May 7, 2016

As dawn breaks over the sea of polytunnels at Costa Group’s newest berry farm west of Gingin, a tide of workers arrive on site to gather the daily bounty from row upon row of heavilyladen vines.

They will carefully hand-pick approximately 100 tonne of ruby red
raspberries and 300 tonne of brilliantly blue blueberries during the winter berry picking season which stretches from April to November in Western Australia. It may seem like an abundance of berries – but this is just the beginning.

Farm Manager Stephen Beckwith, who previously worked in the olive industry, joined Costa in September 2014 when the Gingin property was nothing but a bare block with a terrific water supply.

“We started from scratch here” he recalls. Now 28 hectares of plants are snugly cultivated under a mass of tunnels and even more infrastructure is still underway.

“Our processing facility is being built and will be used later this year when the blueberry harvest is in full swing,” says Stephen.

Gingin is one of the smaller farms owned by horticultural giant Costa, who produce berries, mushrooms, tomatoes, citrus, bananas, avocados and grapes from more than 30 farms across Australia.

Stage 1 of the Gingin farm included 10 ha of raspberries and 5.5 ha blueberries with Stage 2 adding another 12.5 ha of blueberry’s last July. Expansion is planned to continue to meet strong local demand, and we may really be seeing raspberry fields forever if the new free trade agreements open up the potential markets in South-East Asia.

Staff numbers at the Gingin farm swell from 15 to 30 throughout the year to a berry-picking army of up to 150 during peak production (they are currently on the lookout for more picking staff – see employment page 23 if you are jobseeking).

Whilst it’s an early start, and a 6-7 day-a-week job, picking conditions in the huge tunnels are pleasant, with a comfortable ambient temperature and the wind and rain kept at bay to protect the precious fruit. However bees could prove an on-the-job hazard if you’re allergic – the air is a-buzz with the insects which are introduced to maintain optimal pollination. A degree of self-control is also required, to resist the temptation to overindulge
on luscious berries.

Cultivation of such fragile fruit is intensive. “It’s a more controlled horticultural crop than olives, more challenging, but you have more control over the outcomes,” says Stephen.

Both the raspberry and blueberry plants are grown in pots. “The full substrate production we use here is extremely water efficient,” explains Stephen. Whilst they expect to get up to seven years production out of the blueberry bushes, the raspberry plants begin each season as root matter, which grows vigorously to produce autumn fruit. Although they are technically a perennial, it’s just not cold enough here for the plant to undergo proper dormancy as it does in Harvest Manager Spencer Clark’s native England.

“My family back home think it’s funny I work at a raspberry farm,” he says, “At home they just grow wild on the roadside.”

Raspberries are in season now and available in supermarkets, blueberries will come out in June. Packed with antioxidents and numerous health benefits there’s every reason to indulge in this
delicious fruit.