Costa scholarship makes a difference

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For rural science student Emily Dryden, receiving a scholarship from Costa Berries has made all the difference in her studies at the University of New England.

Emily, from the Central Coast of New South Wales, is in the second year of a Bachelor of Rural Science and is the inaugural recipient of the Costa (Berry Category) Scholarship in Horticulture, worth $5000 a year.

Costa Berries supports scholarships at the University of New England, University of Queensland and the University of Tasmania to support students who are pursuing a career in agriculture or horticulture.

Emily, who comes from a single parent family, said the Scholarship had ensured she could focus on her studies.

“The scholarship has been a great help to me, providing financial assistance to buy text books and other equipment. It means I don’t have to try and fit in part-time work and am able to concentrate on my degree,” she said.

“I am passionate about the agricultural and horticultural industry and the sustainability of both the environment and our future resources.  I am keen to use science and research as a gateway to improving and sustaining Australia’s agricultural production and ensuring that every person has access to fresh food and safe water for generations to come.”

Costa team supports Joey’s recovery

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The Costa team in Far North Queensland raised a total of $8320 through the Great Wheelbarrow Race.

The money is being used to help the recovery Joey Donald, an eight-year old Yungaburra boy who is battling severe injuries after a horse-riding accident in late 2018. Joey’s mum, Sarah-Jane Mohammed, said Joey had just returned home after seven months in hospital.

“He has progressed well physically walking inside the house unaided and outside the house with the assistance of a walker/wheelchair. Cognitively, socially and emotionally he still has a fair way to go. He was diagnosed mid November 2018 with Severe Diffuse Axonal Injury and doctors explained it takes two years for the brain to heal, so we have hope that he will continue to progress,” Sarah-Jane said.

“A massive thanks to Carolyn Tomerini  and Ben Turner for organising the fundraising side of things and then of course the runners. We are so grateful for the support we have received from this amazing community.”

Research aims to ensure sweet future for bees

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Ensuring the health of native bees and honeybees and enhancing the pollination of crops is the aim of a partnership between Costa and bee researchers at the University of New England.

UNE and the team at Costa Berries in Corindi are part of the collaborative ‘Securing Pollination for More Productive Agriculture’ project that is investing more than $5 million to develop guidelines for effective pollinator management and stakeholder adoption.

Senior horticulturist at Costa, Maurizio Rocchetti, said bees played a critical role in all crop production and the ongoing research collaboration with UNE and other partners was vital to ensure bee health.

One activity conducted under the project focused on optimising pollination for a range of crops including blueberries, melon, mango and raspberries.

“We were interested in finding out more about honeybees and stingless bees in particular. We knew both species visited blueberry flowers on the farm, but we didn’t necessarily know if they were both efficient or if one was more so than the other,” said Dr Romina Rader, a Senior Lecturer in Community Ecology at UNE.

“We did lots of experimental work where we watched flowers for a long time and observed how many visits the different pollinators would make to the flowers.”

Dr Rader said the project also looked at how many wild bees were providing pollination.

“We found there were on average 25-125 stingless bee colonies per hectare, each with thousands of forager bees.”

Mr Rocchetti said new activities were now looking at how to support the bees.

“We want to see what sort of flowers we need to introduce on the farm in response to certain weather patterns or when there are no other flowers available,” he said.

“The crop itself is one type of pollen and bees need diverse pollen to have good colony health. This year particularly in

January and February when there were no flowers around, we saw the weight of the colonies of stingless bees going down.

“What we are trying to identify is management practices that can deliver better outcomes for growers, the environment and bee keepers.”

“We know that blueberry pollen doesn’t have a high protein content, which bees need for the brood. We are looking at providing some additional pollen sources to attract bees and help maintain strong hives.”

Dr Rader said the research was essentially about making sure the hives remained strong.

“All the things we are doing is to make sure the bees can work hard and stay happy year round – we are doing our best to make sure the bee populations stay healthy.”

She said another project has just begun looking at the use of flies in crop pollination. This project is co-funded by multiple partners in industry, government and research partners as part of Horticulture Innovation’s pollination plus program. It is being led by the Western Australian Department of Agriculture and Food.

“We are interested in finding out if flies can move blueberry pollen. Some flowers are more attractive to flies than to bees. Flies also tend to move quite sporadically, they don’t have a social colony to go back to. Their whole foraging behaviour is different to bees.” she said.

Flies that come out in colder temperatures than bees are the most predominant pollinator in alpine regions.

“It comes back to having the insurance of multiple species providing pollination services. There’s a bit of work to do. At this point we are just going to see if they are going to play a role and be efficient. Potentially it could be better for some crops,” Dr Rader said.

“What we are trying to identify is management practices that can deliver better outcomes for growers, the environment and bee keepers.”

The ‘Securing Pollination for More Productive Agriculture’ project is supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture as part of its Rural R&D for Profit program.

Promoting horticulture to high school students

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The Costa Berry team in Tasmania recently hosted a group of Burnie High School students, who visited the East Devonport strawberry farm, the Distribution Centre and the Wesley Vale raspberry farm.

Burnie High School teacher, Steph Prendergast, said the group had a great visit.

“Thank you so much for the Berry Amazing AGventure at Costa!! My Grade 8 – Introduction to Agriculture class had a great time,” she said.

In Coffs Harbour, representatives from the Corindi berry farm attended the Coffs Coast Career Connections event, with around 1200 Year 10 students attending to find out about career opportunities.

Sean Espinola, Variety Improvement Technician with the Variety Improvement Team, highlighted the high demand for qualified horticulturists in Australia, and the diverese range of opportunities available.

Costa supports scholarships for students interested in careers in agriculture and horticulture at the University of Tasmania, University of New England and University of Queensland. Anyone interested in finding out more can contact:

Costa’s North Maclean Queensland Mushroom Farm proudly supports local sporting club

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Costa Mushrooms Queensland Manager Jamie Fletcher recently visited the home of the  Mustangs Brothers Rugby League Club at Chambers Flat (south of Brisbane) to check on the new club jumpers which are now sponsored by Costa’s North Maclean mushroom farm.

 The club jumpers proudly display the ‘Costa – Well Grown’ logo, and Jamie commended the club for the great job they do in promoting the playing of sport in the local area and for providing young kids with an opportunity to be fit and healthy.   

“Costa is a major employer and economic presence in the local area, with 200 workers employed at our farm, so it is really important for us to support local community groups, including sporting teams such as the Mustangs”, said Jamie.

The Mustangs field teams from Under 6 (5-years-old) right up to the adults Open category. The club also has plans to start a women’s team.

The Mustangs club is run entirely by volunteers who are typical of the commitment and dedication that goes into the running of sporting clubs right across the country.

Costa looks forward to providing ongoing support to the Mustangs and wishes all of their teams the very best for season 2019!

Costa celebrates national banana day at Walkamin Primary School, Far North Queensland

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Australia celebrated National Banana Day on Wednesday May 1 and the team at Costa Bananas got into the celebrations by getting involved in their local community. 

5 MILLION Bananas are consumed by Australians everyday making them one of the most popular fruits in the country.

Approximately 95 per cent of bananas grown in Australia are the Cavendish variety. The next most popular is Lady Finger (about four per cent) and then there a range of other varieties grown for smaller markets, including Ducasse, Goldfinger, Red Dakka and plantain cooking bananas.

While Queensland accounts for 94 per cent of Australia’s 13,000 hectares of banana production, almost all of that is in North Queensland, mainly around the Cassowary Coast (Tully, Innisfail and Kennedy) region, south of Cairns, on the Atherton Tablelands, and at Lakeland, north of Cairns.

Costa has banana farms at Walkamin and Tully, producing from approximately 270 hectares.  

Costa was pleased to visit Walkamin Primary School to celebrate the day, where students enjoyed eating some locally grown bananas.

Costa officially opens expanded avocado packing facility in Childers, Central Queensland

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The official opening of Costa’s Childers (Central QLD) Avocado Packing Facility extension was held on Tuesday 30 April.

Costa was delighted to welcome The Honourable Keith Pitt, Federal Member for Hinkler to officially open the new expansion. Funding was made available through the Federal Coalition government’s Regional Jobs and Investment Package.

The expanded facility in Childers will create more jobs for the local region through greater packing capacity, allowing both Costa and our third party growers to expand production in the coming years to meet customer demand.

Costa Avocado Category General Manager Shanon Williams noted the importance of the Childers growing region to Costa’s avocado production footprint.

“The Childers region is an important growing area for Costa and investing in this facility means we are making a long term commitment to the region, including the creation of new jobs and employment opportunities for people from within the region”, said Shanon.

Costa’s investment in the facility while increasing our capacity to grow, and export pack avocados, will also enable a greater focus on the health and safety of our workers which is paramount to Costa and our operations.

Walkamin State School reaps the fruits of Costa labour

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Costa’s avocado, banana and berry teams have joined forces to build new vegetable gardens at the Walkamin State School on the Atherton Tablelands, in addition to providing fresh fruit for the school’s morning breakfast club.

Organiser Kylie Stonehouse, from Costa Bananas, said it was great to be involved in such an important community project.

“Walkamin is a small country school and it was great to get in there and help out. We put in 11 new gardens and an irrigation system,” Kylie said.

“The school uses the vegetables for cooking on site. Every Friday different grades do cooking classes from the garden on ‘Fun Friday’. This teaches the children healthy eating and good food habits through the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program,” Kylie said.

“With the expertise of our growers and horticulturists we are delighted to be able to help improve the garden.”

Kylie said the team was also providing fresh fruit for the school’s breakfast club and Costa volunteers were recently at the school serving up banana pancakes.

School principal Mr Ric Baruksopulo welcomed the support from the Costa team.

“We are a small school of 55 kids and three teachers. We have been working on a vege garden for a long time, but there’s not enough people to keep it going,” Ric said.

“Last year we didn’t have a big enough variety of food, but now with the help from Costa we have raised garden beds and irrigation and we’ll be able to grow a lot more things. We take the food and teach the kids about healthy eating — it’s a good community project.”

Ric said a team of 35 people from Costa had come in to redo the gardens and that would be followed by a working bee involving the parents and students.

“It’s all about teaching healthy lifestyle choices and any time we can work with local farms is great.”

Donations were also received from business and individuals including Dairy Famers, James and Sari Geraghty, MSF Sugar, Atherton Council and Yuruga Nursery.

Costa is Australia’s leading grower, packer and marketer of fresh fruit and vegetables. Operations include approximately 4500 planted hectares of farmland, 30 hectares of glasshouse facilities and seven mushroom growing facilities. On the Atherton Tablelands, Costa operates three berry farms at Walkamin, Tolga and Rangeview, six avocado farms and two banana farms in the Atherton and Walkamin regions.

New multi-million dollar berry packing facility opens in Morocco

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A new multi-million dollar berry packing facility has been opened in Morocco by Costa Group’s African Blue operations, putting it at the forefront of berry exports to the European Union, United Kingdom, Russia and Asia.

The state-of-the-art facility in Larache, Morocco, is a 10,000 square metre facility, making it the largest berry packing facility servicing the European market. The shed has been designed to handle seasonal capacity of up to 12,000 tonnes of blueberries per year and is capable of processing 150 tonnes per day.

Costa Berry International General Manager, Peter McPherson, who is in Morocco for the opening said this was a further major investment by Costa Group in Morocco through its majority owned companies African Blue and Sweet Berry.

“This facility will enhance the quality and reputation of Costa Group’s world leading blueberry genetics, which have been grown in Morocco for over a decade,” Mr McPherson said.

“The blueberry varieties that we grow give us a distinct competitive advantage in the United Kingdom, European Union and Russia as we are able to deliver a premium fresh product into those markets.”

African Blue General Manager, Mr Avi Wizman said around 200 people attended the opening, including Australia’s first Ambassador to Morocco, Ms Berenice Owen-Jones, government officials, customers, clients and service providers.

The opening coincided with a visit to Australia by Mr Aziz Akhannouch, Morocco’s Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Rural Development, Water and Forests, who toured one of Costa’s berry farms in Corindi, New South Wales, to gain an insight into the Australian operations.

Costa acquired a majority ownership stake in African Blue in late 2017. The Morocco production area is 294 hectares, with supply from an additional 108 hectares from licensed third-party growers. Further development is currently being undertaken to extend the length of the season including plantings at Agadir located on the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to the Moroccan operations, Costa operates three berry farms in China with more than 100 hectares.

Moroccan Agriculture Minister tours Costa farm

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A delegation led by the Moroccan Minister of Agriculture toured the Costa Berry farm at Corindi on February 9 as part of a two-week visit to Australia that included New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria, Queensland and Canberra.

Mr Aziz Akhannouch, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Rural Development, Waters and Forests, was accompanied by members of the chambers of agriculture and agricultural interprofessions, industry officials and agricultural company representatives.

The Minister said the visit was an opportunity to learn about the Australian experience in areas of training, research and biosecurity, and to see large producers such as Costa in operation.

He said there were opportunities for both countries to promote cooperation.

“Morocco is a gateway to the European and African markets for Australia,” Mr Akhannouch said.

Austrade Director in Morocco Mr Oussama Alaoui, who organised the mission program, said it was the second visit by the Minister to Australia and was aimed at developing new research and training collaborations, developing capabilities in areas such as biosecurity as well as to address opportunities for increased cooperation in trade and investment.

He said Costa, which had invested significantly in Morocco, provided a model for other Australian producers looking to gain access to the European markets.

“Costa enjoys a very good reputation in the Moroccan market and employs a good number of people. It also exports Moroccan agricultural products to the European Union,” Mr Alaoui said.

“This is a very important visit in terms of the status of the Minister in Morocco and as a leader of a political party. Australia just opened an embassy in Morocco in 2017 and this comes as a strong gesture from Morocco that they appreciate Australia is committed to being engaged.”

The visit to Australia coincides with Costa subsidiary, African Blue opening its new multi-million ‘state-of-the-art’ 10,000 square metre pack house in Larache, Morocco.

Costa Berry International General Manager, Peter McPherson, currently in Morocco for the opening said: “This is a further major investment by the Costa group in Morocco through its majority owned companies African Blue and Sweet Berry and will be the largest berry pack house servicing the EU market and will further enhance the overall quality reputation of the world leading Australian bred Costa genetics to its customer base.”

Around 200 people including Australia’s first Ambassador to Morocco, Ms Berenice Owen-Jones, government officials, customers, clients and service providers attended the packing shed opening ceremony and farm visits.

Photo caption:  From left, Greg Murdoch and George Jessett, Costa Berry International, Mr Aziz Akhannouch, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Rural Development, Waters and Forests, Mohamed Alamouri – President of InterProberries Maroc, and Christian Parsons and Sarah Behr, Costa Berry Category.

Berries back on the menu at Produce to the People

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Leading horticultural company Costa has once again thrown its support behind the community organisation Produce to the People, with $10,000 in funding for operations during 2019.

Costa has had an ongoing relationship with Produce to the People since 2016 and has now also resumed fruit donations, following the announcement that Northern Tasmania is free of fruit fly.

Produce to the People is a social enterprise that grows, gathers and gives fresh produce to those in need. In the last financial year, the organisation gave almost 77,000 kilos of produce to the North-West community.

Produce to the People President Dr Amina Keygan said Costa’s ongoing support for the organisation was greatly appreciated. “Produce to the People is so grateful for both the continuing financial support and food donations from Costa, which go a long way to helping ensure the most vulnerable people in our community get the support they need and deserve,” Dr Keygan said. “The resumption of fruit donations to the emergency food relief program following the fruit fly issue is especially welcome in that we are able to offer more variety to those accessing our services.”

Cameron Folder, regional manager for Costa’s Tasmania berry farms, said he was pleased to continue support for Produce to the People, which provided such a valuable service to the Burnie community and surrounds.

“Costa Berries plays an active role in supporting the social fabric of the many regional and rural communities in which we operate. We look forward to continuing to support the work of Produce to the People in providing those in need with access to fresh and healthy produce,” Mr Folder said.