Sunday, December 07, 2014

New Style Desert Crops Attract Investment Dollars

Sundrop Farms has received a $100 million injection from private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) to aggressively expand its operations growing tomatoes on desert land north of Port Augusta in South Australia using cutting edge solar thermal energy and desalination for heating and cooling greenhouses.

A new 10-year contract, in which supermarket giant Coles buys Sundrop produced tomatoes, was a crucial element in cementing the investment.

Combined with $6 million in funds being tipped in by the South Australian government, as announced by Premier Jay Weatherill on Thursday, Sundrop Farms is set to expand, with up to 300 jobs being created.

The expanded output means Sundrop will be pro­ducing up to 15,000 tonnes of tomatoes, capsicums and other vegetables each year after 2016.

Leighton Holdings will also be a ­beneficiary, because its John Holland subsidiary has been awarded a contract worth $150 million to design and construct a 20-hectare greenhouse facility.

The work will start now and is scheduled for completion in late 2016.

Hundreds of jobs

Mr Weatherill said the State government had provided $6 million from a Regional Development Fund towards the expansion. He said the project would create 100 jobs during construction and about 200 when the expanded operation was up and running.

The Sundrop operation has been successfully trialling its technology on a smaller scale, and is now ready to go ahead with expansion plans.

Mr Weatherill said the contract with Coles to purchase Sundrop's truss tomatoes for the next 10 years and sell them across its national network was vital in securing financing. "The project is the first in SA to in­tegrate, at a commercial scale, leading technologies across solar thermal energy, solar seawater desalination and freshwater neutrality (through) 20 hectares of energy-efficient greenhouses."

The Sundrop operations are about 300 kilometres north of Adelaide, near Port Augusta. The dry climate and the close proximity of the seawaters of the Upper Spencer Gulf are viewed as ideal for the use of the solar thermal technology, which works most efficiently in flat, arid regions close to the ocean and in an area of low humidity.

Leighton chief executive Marcelino Fernandez Verdes said his company had the multidisciplinary skills for the "unique requirements" of the arid environment project.

Coles was a takeover target of KKR in 2006, kicking off a bidding war that was eventually won by Wesfarmers in 2007 for $19 billion.

More ideas on expanding the modern concepts for new style agriculture and horticulture.  Will it work?  no one really knows, but they have done the trials and testing, and it seems a solid base.

In agriculture today, technology rules!!  So all you knockers, get with it and introduce some technology ideas if you want to thrive.

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