BLUE SKIES AHEAD: Forest Hill farmer Glenn Lerch is looking forward to a fruit and vegetable cannery in the Lockyer Valley to boost local growers.
BLUE SKIES AHEAD: Forest Hill farmer Glenn Lerch is looking forward to a fruit and vegetable cannery in the Lockyer Valley to boost local growers. Inga Williams

Hopes are high that processing plant could rescue farmers

FOREST Hill farmer Glenn Lerch ruefully remembers the gradual realisation that food giant Golden Circle was about to ditch the growers who had long supported it.

That was four years ago.

By sharp contrast, Mr Lerchs spirit's soared this year with news a $71 million 23,500 sq m fruit and vegetable cannery will be built on a 12ha site at Grantham, 75km west of Ipswich.

The proposed development was announced by the Lockyer Valley Fruit and Vegetable Processing Company, which plans to establish the plant with first production slated for July 2017.

Lockyer Valley Mayor Steve Jones said the future of the cannery has been bolstered thanks to a positive meeting with government representatives.

It follows his comments in yesterday's QT calling for people to support Lockyer Valley growers.

Cr Jones said a special meeting of his council would be held at 8am today to receive a presentation from the Lockyer Valley Fruit and Vegetable Processing Company.

"It's good news," said Mr Lerch, a shareholder in the company.

"It will mean the world if the cannery goes ahead. They're just chasing a guarantor for the money; hopefully they'll get investors.

"Once they start building it, it will just go in leaps and bounds - once industries know it's there.

"The flow-on effect for the community will be huge. A lot of farmers will be interested; they'll come on board."

Forest Hill farmer Glenn Lerch. Photo Inga Williams / The Queensland Times
Forest Hill farmer Glenn Lerch. Photo Inga Williams / The Queensland Times Inga Williams

The farming land around the proposed cannery is rated the seventh highest yielding crop land in the world. It can produce two crops per year so canning production can be optimised by eliminating seasonal downtimes.

Mr Lerch's family had grown beetroots for Golden Circle until 2011 when Heinz, after buying Golden Circle, shut down Queensland canneries and moved the process to New Zealand.

It threw the $7.5 million local beetroot industry into peril and left farmers wondering what to grow and how to survive.

"The last year we grew 200 acres for them. That's 2000 tons," Mr Lerch said. "They called us in for a meeting in April because they wanted a heap of beetroot planted.

"We thought the marketers had their figures wrong the amount of beetroot they wanted.

"But we all went out and planted them and June we found out why - they were shutting up shop; they just wanted a heap of supply as back-up when they moved."

It was a kick in the guts for him and all the farmers but like most with a life on the land he picked himself up and moved on.

"We went into lucerne," he said. "You can store it away for the winter if you can't sell it at the time. We supply the racehorse and harness racing industries."

But he would love to get back into beetroots to supply the cannery.

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