WA’s largest citrus packing plant has attracted national attention as Moora Citrus looks to the future of the horticulture industry.
Shadow Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Joel Fitzgibbon travelled to WA on a mission to see a $7 million packing shed, which was the idea of five families, who are involved in the Moora Citrus business.
The joint venture between the Kay, Gillon, Yildiz, Brennan and Middleton families, offers a way for the Northern Valley region to process and pack more fruit faster and more cost effectively.
While admiring the new shed, Mr Fitzgibbon along with Agricultural region MP Darren West and Federal Labor candidate for Pearce Kim Travers, discussed key issues that Moora Citrus believed were effecting business operations.
Northern Valley Packers shed manager and co-owner Shane Kay said “some of the key topics that were focused on in horticulture or citrus is labour and biosecurity – which are our big ones”.
“This shed came as a result of a shortfall of available infrastructure to do the job that we need,” Mr Kay said.
The shed is the first dedicated citrus packing shed in WA that can do everything from processing, packaging, cooling, loading and inspections and allows produce to be transported straight to port.
Mr Fitzgibbon was supportive of the issues facing the citrus industry and said they were industry-wide.
“Everywhere I go in regional Australia, the key issue is the workforce, as politicians we spend most the time talking about creating jobs, but too little time talking about how we fill existing jobs and its a real crisis in the agriculture/horticulture sector,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
Moora Citrus director Sue Middleton said the local group talked to the politicians about biosecurity and the need to make sure they continue to invest in a secure Australia.
“Without the boarder force, the investment in surveillance and biosecurity responses, there is the possibility of so many pests and diseases that we don’t have and we don’t want,” Ms Middleton said.
Mr Fitzgibbon agreed with Ms Middleton, saying “biosecurity is everything, all these export opportunities are dependent on our key competitive advantage which is our reputation as a provider of clean, green, safe and high quality food”.
“If we ever lose that reputation of clean and green, we will lose our competitive advantage,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
Other issues that arose were visas for agricultural workers and the difficulty of the visa process, the importance of trade and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreements and the future of the Roe 8 transport link.
Ms Middleton said the group was committed to seeing a good transport system to get their products to market.
Mr Fitzgibbon said there were a range of things that the Federal government needed to focus on.
“We need to focus on our vocation education and training institutions and courses to make sure the training opportunities are there,” he said.
“We need to be getting into our schools to get it through to young people that there are not just menial jobs available in horticulture but much higher technical positions available.
“We need to change the culture a little, but we have to make sure the visa system properly and fully takes account of the special needs of the agriculture sector.”
Mr Kay said the new packing shed had decreased the amount of staff that would be needed but had increased the difficulty of the work.
“We are taking what would usually be 12 working holiday people and replacing them with, hopefully, two local full-time people with a more highly-skilled position to run the equipment,” Mr Kay said.
Before the shed was built, Moora Citrus supplied fruit from the orchard to four different packing sheds around the State.
Logistically it was inefficient and there was little consistency among the sheds, which each packed fruit slightly differently.
The fruit would then go to a freight forwarder in Perth, which would conduct inspections and cooling, which was an additional cost in the production line.
Mr Kay said doing all those steps themselves had reduced costs and created consistency and efficiency.
Ms Middleton said the shed created “hugely efficient packing”.
“Previously we were packing in three different sheds so now we can bring all of our packing into one shed plus pack for other members of the industry and export directly from here, which is a big leap forward for the citrus industry of WA,” she said.
Ms Middleton said the quality of the fruit and the pack was 100 per cent in their control.
Mr Fitzgibbon said the shed was a great example of local people taking considered risk to create wealth and jobs in the economy.
“It’s just wonderful and they have identified export opportunities, which is good for them, but it’s good for the Australian economy,” he said.
“Agriculture is exciting, the opportunities before us are enormous but so too are the challenges, the investors matter most but there is a role for government to provide strategic guidance to set the right pathway to ensure we make the most of those opportunities.”
Moora Citrus marketing manager Elizabeth Brennan said the shed was working towards being able to pack most of the year.
“There will still be a window where no produce is ready to be packed but this line can be retrofitted to pack avocados and other odd-shaped fruits, mangoes for example and we could even do grapes,” Ms Brennan said.