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More than $100,000 has helped Mildura farms take the innovation lead.

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AFFA04/11T - 19 March 2004

More than $100,000 has helped Mildura farms take the innovation lead

DAFF04/11T 19 March 2004

New processing techniques developed in Victoria's Sunraysia district will help horticulture enterprises maintain a cutting-edge, Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Judith Troeth said today.

The Senator was in the Sunraysia district to attend a series of demonstrations that showcase projects funded by Australian Government's under the Agriculture - Advancing Australia Farm Innovation Program (FIP). Sunset Vineyards and Boiell Creek Packers are among 30 FIP funded projects in Victoria, with the Government providing more than $1.8 million for the Victorian projects over two years.

Sunset Vineyards of Nangiloc has developed a radial head shaker harvester to minimise damage to dried grapes and reduce dry wood contamination. A grant of $84,000 was awarded to Sunset Vineyards to develop the cost-efficient design, that harvests two rows simultaneously and has been adapted to meet industry requirements.

"The harvester collects dried fruit quickly without affecting fruit quality, which is essential for maximising profits," the Senator said. "Returns are calculated at $40 a tonne, compared with $35 a tonne for hand-harvested operations."

Ten years ago, dried grapes were Australia's largest horticulture export industry - earning around $100 million a year in exports. However, many grape-growing enterprises had turned to the wine industry, and Australia has become a net importer of dried grapes.

"Using improved grape varieties and adopting the world's best mechanised-harvesting methods, dried fruit growers are in a good position to revitalise the industry," the Senator said.

Senator Troeth also visited Boiell Creek Packers - another Sunraysia FIP project. Boiell Creek Packers has not only found a use for unwanted asparagus spears, it's used them to create a pickled delicacy.

The project included the development of a new processing facility that uses specially designed equipment, a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP), and a separate room for pickling operations. Most importantly, the project finds an exciting new use for a previously unwanted product.

"The company uses waste asparagus, that either doesn't meet industry specifications or is excess, to produce bottled pickled asparagus in mild chilli and garlic flavours," the Senator said.

Senator Troeth said Boiell Creek Packers exports 50 per cent of its fresh asparagus to Japan, with the remainder going to Taiwan, Hong Kong,

Singapore, as well as to all the major domestic markets. The company also produces and exports grapes and citrus fruit.

The total Victorian vegetable export market has increased by 72 per cent in recent years, and was valued at $151 million in 2000. A dramatic boost in asparagus exports - to $27 million in 2000 - along with increased vegetable juice exports, contributed significantly to this growth. By 2002-03, fresh asparagus exports had grown to $33 million, with our top five consumers being Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and the Republic of Korea.

"The Boiell Creek Packers project, and the many others funded under the Farm Innovation Program, demonstrates what industry and government can achieve when they work in partnership," Senator Troeth said. "Through this program - and the many other like it - the Australian Government has put in place the right strategies to help Australian farmers meet the challenges of the future.

Further media inquiries:

Senator Troeth's office: Allison Murphy (02) 6277 3002 or 0408 917 639