THINGS are definitely looking up in South Gippsland.
Notwithstanding the malaise in the dairy industry at the moment and worrying news that Murray Goulburn is considering the future of its plants at Maffra and Leongatha, it’s certainly not all doom and gloom, not by a long shot.
And according to South Gippsland Shire Councillor Andrew McEwen, there’s a commercial development going on in the shire at the moment that has the potential to dramatically change the base of the region’s economy.
Big call, but he believes the vegetable-growing project presently taking shape off Tarwin Lower Road at Tarwin has the potential to do just that.
“It’s a brilliant project,” Cr McEwen said, after reporting to council on a visit to the site last week.
“The Schreurs family has seven farms at Clyde, six of which they are looking to consolidate on their property at Tarwin over the next two years.
“It represents a $25 million investment initially but it’s something that has the potentially to significantly diversify our economic base.”
It’s not pie in the sky.
Cr McEwen believes that the family’s impressive track record of growing the business on Melbourne’s burgeoning city fringe, as well as the indication that others might wish to follow their lead to South Gippsland, spells a food production bonanza for the area.
“Growing celery is the biggest part of their operation but they’ve also added leeks, rocket and baby spinach in recent times while expanding the volume of their exports into Asia; Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and the like.
“They employ 125 people now but they hope to double the size of their operation here over a four to five year period, expanding local employment to 250 people.”
They’ve got the track record.
An article in the Weekly Times in December 2015 described how the business, rebranded Schreurs and Sons after the inclusion of the next generation in the operation, had expanded exports 10-fold and the production of celery 30 per cent and leeks 35 per cent in the two years since they took over the Clyde operation.
By relocating to South Gippsland, away from the pressure of the urban sprawl, the handcuffs will come off and they can expand as required on their 365ha farm here.
“They have established an impressive reputation for what they have achieved where they are at Clyde and they’re already making great strides here as well,” he said.
As exciting as the prospect is of having a new, 500-job employer in the area, Cr McEwen said there had already been feelers out from others who would like to follow their lead and come to South Gippsland.
“It’s my understanding that we have 50 per cent of the drought-proof farming land in Australia here and with an adequate supply of water, there’s no reason why we couldn’t be looking at major growth in the area.”
He said there was the potential for another 1000ha to be committed to vegetable growing, with the prospect of 1000 new jobs.
“We’ve already completed our agriculture cluster study and we should now be promoting the opportunities that exist here to other growers.”
Cr McEwen agreed that the imminent closure of the Hazelwood Power Station and the drive to find replacement jobs in the region should bring such developments in South Gippsland into the scope of the State Government for encouragement.
Cr McEwen said most councillors had taken the opportunity to visit the site at Tarwin and the Mayor Cr Ray Argento, along with Coastal Promontory Ward Councillor Jeremy Rich would also visit the farm in coming days.