Family-owned fruit and vegetable business Swan Ridge Farms, at Meadowvale near Bundaberg, already employs 12 workers but they’ll need plenty more when a new post-harvest facility is built.

The business already supplies more than 1.5 million kilograms of capsicum, rockmelon, watermelon, and zucchinis every year to both the domestic wholesale and New Zealand domestic markets, but the project will increase supply by 400 per cent. Produce grown on the farm is expected to increase by 500,000 kilograms to two million kilograms a year.

Grower Brent Attard said they’ll need at least another 12 full-time workers plus plenty of other roles including truck drivers, fork lift operators, cardboard machine operators, refrigeration owners and operators, designers for packaging services, packing services, sorting, grading, value adding produce, marketing and promotion.

The company was one of 15 successful under the most recent round of up to $250,000 Queensland State Government Regional Economic Development Grants.

“We are a vibrant family owned and operated farm, based in the diverse and rapidly expanding ‘food bowl’ of the Wide Bay-Burnett,” Mr Attard said.

“Our vision is to significantly expand our current production to tap into emerging export opportunities, create long-term, reliable employment for local people in the Wide Bay-Burnett region, and to continue to be a regionally significant stakeholder in production horticulture.

“This project is a game changer, drastically improving how our produce is processed post-harvest and how we manage produce supply, and our employees.”

The project involves plans to expand and fit-out a purpose built post-harvest handling facility, creating long-term skilled employment opportunities, skill acquisition and capacity building opportunities specific to horticulture and post-harvest handling, and regional industry confidence in the ability for family owned and operated horticulture growers to thrive.

It will be powered with renewable energy.

Mr Attard said it was expected the project would facilitate access to export marketplaces and the expansion of the small, family business into a medium-sized, highly competitive business.

The facility will feature specialty cool rooms, sorting and packing machines, and all required post–harvest handling, food hygiene equipment and appliances for produce grown on farm including zucchini, capsicum, rockmelon, watermelon and macadamias.

“The proposed storage and cooling facilities will allow produce to be stored appropriately, for packing later during regular working hours. This provides Swan Ridge Farms with the capacity to offer secure, regular employment opportunities for local people, lessening our reliance on an unskilled and itinerant workforce required to work the irregular hours,” he said.

The $10 million Rural Economic Development Grants program provides for three funding rounds over a three-year period ending in 2021.

Funding for Round 2 of the Grants will be announced soon. For more information visit www.qrida.qld.gov.au/redgrants or Freecall 1800 623 946.

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