Pig poo power plant set to boost jobs and energy in northern Victoria

An ambitious plan to turn pig poo and food scraps into power is being developed in northern Victoria.

The power plant, glasshouse and piggery expansion, called Waranga Green Energy, will be built at Stanhope, west of Shepparton. For over five years, it has been the dream of piggery owner John Bourke.

The project is set to transform the quiet town of Stanhope, providing an additional 30 jobs and estimated $10 million per year for the local economy. The aim of the property is to develop a closed system for power and waste on the farm.

Pig poo and straw from the intensive farming environment will be used, along with other food waste, to create power in an anaerobic digester plant to be built nearby. The plant will be used to power the piggery and provide heat to an expanded and upgraded farm.

Next to the power plant, a 4.6-hectare greenhouse will be built, using power and heat to grow leafy green vegetables, year round, to supply gaps in the seasonal markets.

The goal is to sell up to 20 million lettuces and over 20,000 pigs per year, along with liquid and solid fertiliser (a bi-product from the power plant) to the farm’s customers.

The price tag for the Waranga Green Energy and farm project is around $75million which Mr Bourke is planning to raise through superannuation and foreign investment.

He has hired a company to raise the capital needed.

An additional $1 million grant has been awarded by the Victorian State Government.

Mr Bourke is confident he will get the investment dollars he needs because of the high return from the project.

Construction is set to begin in early 2017 with Mr Bourke expecting the farm to be fully operational and sending food to market within the year.

Pigs on straw beds at a piggery at Stanhope

Pigs on straw beds at a piggery at Stanhope

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SA Aboriginal community turns to saltbush farming to create remote jobs

The Aboriginal community of Scotdesco on South Australia’s west coast, has pinned its hopes on farming to overcome shockingly high levels of unemployment.

Robert Larking’s office spans 25,000 acres on the edge of the Nullarbor, where he manages the tiny Aboriginal community.

He, and the community’s residents are embarking on an ambitious project to commercially sell saltbush, a hardy native, in a bid to create jobs in the remote area. To create employment, Mr Larking and the community is pinning its hopes on saltbush.

“Our process now is to go into a different stage where we can grow our saltbush, and feed our lamb saltbush and hit a different market,” he said.

The community has planted hundreds of saltbush plants, to be harvested commercially in three years’ time. A nursery has also been built where residents tend the seedlings until they are ready to go in the ground. There are plans to eventually build a mill in nearby Ceduna, where the plants can be turned into pellets for stock feed or flour for human consumption.

The community tends to saltbush seedlings until they are ready to be planted.

The community tends to saltbush seedlings until they are ready to be planted.

Saltbush is gluten free and high in protein.

“That’s when it’s really all going to come together, but we’ll be planting our paddocks for the next three years with other plants, so, increasing our stock.

While this project is only just getting off the ground, those involved have big plans. The hope is to plant about 10,000 hectares of saltbush in the region with the help of other Indigenous communities.

Ms Miller said it was important that job opportunities were available in remote areas.

Local Indigenous groups know this land, in the remote west of South Australia, inside out. That is why Mr Larking started looking at new ways the community could use their knowledge of the country to become self-sustainable.

He turned to farming, and the property runs sheep that are sold to market.

“We first started off with only 600 ewes and about 20 rams. After three years now we’ve got over 3,000 ewes and about 60 rams, even a bit more now, and we’re selling easy over 1,000 lambs a year,” he said.

Mr Larking said the community turned to saltbush to build on that success.

“We’re a small community and I sort of feel like there’s just a one-man-band, myself, but you know if I had more staff … we could move on very quickly to brighter and better things,” he said.

“Thinking about it, I can sell my meat to Woolies or Coles or something like that, a private buyer, instead of selling it straight to the market.”

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Agriculture worth half a billion dollars to Tablelands

Agriculture contributed more than half a billion dollars to the economy of the Tablelands in far north Queensland in 2015, a new agriculture profile has revealed.

The profile puts the combined value of the region’s 42 large agricultural industries at $552 million.

Agriculture has posted a 30 per cent increase in value over the last four years, despite the impact of prolonged drought in some parts of the region.

Agriculture Minister Leanne Donaldson said the impressive growth demonstrated the strength of the local industry and its importance to the Tablelands.

 Matt and Jess Fealy, Blue Sky Produce, Mareeba, are among the large number of avocado growers who make up the industry which contributed $83 million to the region's economy in 2015.

Matt and Jess Fealy, Blue Sky Produce, Mareeba, are among the large number of avocado growers who make up the industry which contributed $83 million to the region’s economy in 2015.

Ms Donaldson used a recent trade mission overseas to promote the region’s produce.

“While recently on a trade mission to Jakarta, Hong Kong and Beijing I was able to meet directly with industry and government officials and to profile Queensland produce to industry leaders, Asian importers and distributors,” Ms Donaldson said.

Dr Geoff Dickinson, a Mareeba-based senior horticulturist with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF), said the department had just updated the region’s agriculture profile for the first time since 2011.

“The banana industry is the most valuable to the Tablelands, worth $91 million,” Mr Dickinson said.

“Avocado is second with a value of $83 million. Other notable industries are mango ($52 million), sugar cane ($39 million), beef cattle ($35 million), dairy cattle ($34 million) and poultry ($30 million), he said.

Blueberries, a new agricultural industry on the Tablelands, are now worth $11 million. Sweet potatoes, an old industry making a comeback are now worth $5 million.

Both these industries are highly labour intensive and have brought many new seasonal jobs to the region, Dr Dickinson said.

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Regional online shoppers drive Australia Post parcel boom

Regional and rural online shoppers are driving a parcel boom that is buoying the business of Australia Post.

Regional retail is evolving and people are buying more online, filling the regional delivery depots of Australia Post with everything from small cosmetics to car parts.

The high streets in many regional towns and cities are not the bustling centres of business they may have once been.

But in a mining region such as the WA Goldfields, even with a decline in population, online sales have increased.

Australia Post data, gathered by tracking what and where customers were buying items from, has revealed a 6.6 per cent growth in online shopping in Kalgoorlie. Popular shopping categories include: cosmetics and pharmacy items, which were up 38 per cent; media purchases, which consisted mainly of books, were up 32 per cent; and specialty food and liquor items were up 19 per cent.

Ben Franzi is the general manager of eCommerce and digital parcel services at Australia Post.

“If I’m living in Kalgoorlie, I probably don’t have as good an access to retailers as I might if I’m living in Perth,” he said.

“So that desire for products, for range and convenience and price, really lends to someone in Kalgoorlie buying a lot more online.”

Mr Franzi said the role of rural and regional communities in the future of Australia Post was “two-pronged”.

A career in the evolving postal depot

John Blake has worked for Australia Post for more than 20 years — he was once a postie and is now the manager at the Kalgoorlie delivery centre.

Mr Blake has seen the transition from letters to parcels first hand, and with branded packaging, he said he could actually see buying trends in action.

Depot manager John Blake has watched how post has changed over the past 20 years.

Depot manager John Blake has watched how post has changed over the past 20 years.

He said it was not uncommon to see items coming through the post that customers would once have bought locally.

“Motorcycle handlebars is one you see — you see wheels for cars, bikes,” he said.

Mr Blake said much had changed since the 1990s, when he worked as a postie.

“It was predominantly letters, you might have seven or eight items [requiring a signature] in a day — now they’ll have 30 or 40,” he said.

Australia Post has been experimenting with using drones to deliver parcels, particularly in more remote, rural parts of the country.

Instead of having to wind their way up a country road, where conditions might vary, in the future posties may launch a drone carrying a parcel, fly direct to the property, and lower the item to the customer.

Currently Australia Post was experimenting with drones that could fly for half an hour, and carry a two-kilogram parcel.

Mr Franzi said this technology was three to five years away.

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Helicopter drone used in the war against mites.

A helicopter-style drone is being used in the war against mites that suck the goodness out of growing crops. Aerobugs, a business run by former strawberry grower Nathan Roy, has taken off after Mr Roy invented and patented a system to air drop predatory mites into the fields.

The predatory mites attack the chemically resistant two-spotted mites, which can decimate strawberry crops, before self-destructing.

“For 25 years I grew strawberries with my family, and two years ago we decided we couldn’t expand any further with our farm, so we decided to hop out of strawberries,” Mr Roy said.

“My brother has gone into turf and I’ve gone into spreading beneficial insects by drone.

The drone has been used to drop beneficial bugs on more than half of Queensland's winter strawberry crops.

The drone has been used to drop beneficial bugs on more than half of Queensland’s winter strawberry crops.

Mr Roy sources the predatory mites from the Bugs for Bugs insectary at Donnybrook, north of Brisbane.

He then sets the drone up and mixes the insects, pours them into a spreader system he has made, then takes off and spreads them all over the fields.

Mr Roy works closely with Paul Jones from Bugs for Bugs, the company that breeds the predatory mites.

“The logistics of getting these bugs out, particularly in large areas can be quite difficult,” Mr Jones said.

“Usually a grower would employ workers to put them out by hand, and it can be quite challenging instructing people how to do it.

“Sometimes they might leave the product out in the sun and kill the poor little critters.

“It’s not like a chemical where you mix it in a tank and you spray it out in the field.

“We’ve been using the drone for the last two years, and in the last 12 months it’s really been taken up commercially — the results have been excellent.”

Mr Roy said the cost of using the drone was comparative to other methods.

“Good predator establishment in the fields has been a positive outcome from this year’s trials,” he said.

“We might be a little bit dearer, but instead of sporadic spotting over the strawberry field, we’re covering every square metre of the field, so we’re getting a much more even spread.”

Mr Roy said he had driven about 150,000 kilometres in the past 18 months as business had boomed.

“I’ve done half the winter crop for Queensland’s strawberry industry, probably half of Queensland’s summer strawberry crop up in Stanthorpe, and quite a few of the strawberry growers in Adelaide,” he said.

“We’ve also ventured off into tomatoes in the Gatton area, and then we’ve done trials in other types of industries like bananas, watermelons and pumpkins.”

Mr Roy has big plans for expansion.

“I’m hoping to have a lot of crafts established all over Australia, so I can have people trained up to fly the drones for the farms, or I’ll just fly in to do them myself,” he said.

“Coming from a farming background, I understand what it’s like to be under those stresses, so I’ve made something that I can go out and help farmers trying to streamline their businesses,” he said.

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