Solar-driven tomato farm attracts global attention

Solar-driven tomato farm attracts global attention

Agribusiness
EXCITING TIMES (right): Port Augusta mayor Sam Johnson says there are plenty of exciting projects happening in the city.

EXCITING TIMES (right): Port Augusta mayor Sam Johnson says there are plenty of exciting projects happening in the city.

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THE creation of a solar-driven tomato farm at Port Augusta will be a major lift to the city and to the region.

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THE creation of a solar-driven tomato farm at Port Augusta will be a major lift to the city and to the region.

Port Augusta mayor Sam Johnson, 28, said the Sundrop Farms project would offer a major boost for employment prospects in the region.

"The Sundrop Farms project is a $150 million to $200m project using world-first technology to establish a tomato farm on an open salt flat," he said.

"The 70 hectare-plus tomato farm will create about 200 jobs. This will be a massive boost for the region, especially because we're talking new jobs, not just a transfer of jobs.

"To have those completely new jobs created is massive for Port Augusta and the region. About 100 jobs will be sourced from Port Augusta and the region and the other jobs from other parts of the state and interstate."

The project meant the town was receiving world-wide attention.

"It's put Port Augusta on the international stage," he said. "We've had delegates from the Middle East visit Port Augusta to come and look at the technology.

"There also a new pilot project happening in Saudi Arabia to grow tomatoes through the same system. Our project has proved the technology works."

Originally, Sundrop Farms had considered three sites for the project, two in WA and Port Augusta.

"From a logistical point of view, Port Augusta made the most sense," he said.

"It has been identified as one of the world's best locations for solar technology. Sundrop Farms has been very supportive of the region and very supportive of Port Augusta."

Construction work for the project had started.

"It should be completed later in the year and on-line next year," Mr Johnson said.

Sundrops Farm had an agreement in place with Coles to supply the tomatoes grown in Port Augusta to the chain's 350-plus stores. "That's another positive about the project - all the feeder industries related to it will mean further jobs, and that's something the region really needs," he said.

The project uses solar thermal technology and Mr Johnson said it fitted-in well with council's support of renewable energy.

"We're passionate about being leaders in renewable energy, we believe it's something Port Augusta and SA needs to be focused on," he said.

There had been speculation in the metropolitan media recently that Port Augusta would make a good location for a nuclear reactor. Port Adelaide Enfield mayor Gary Johanson had been quoted as having said Port Augusta was the best option for a nuclear base in SA.

But Mr Johnson said the people of Port Augusta were strongly opposed to any such push.

"They are dead-against it," he said. "It's the 'what-if?' factor. They say there's only one-in-1000 chance of something going wrong, but what if it does?"

Another exciting project for the city was the official opening of the new $21m sporting complex, which was funded through the three tiers of government.

"The plan for the centre was originally brought up back in the 1990s," he said.

Once $5m from the federal and state government was secured, it was enough to get the project across the line. The rest of the funding came from council and in-kind support.

"We see it as a facility not just for Port Augusta, but for the region," Mr Johnson said.

Apart from being a sporting complex, the new facility features a function centre and meeting rooms.

The first event has already been held in the function centre, with an ageing expo run recently.

Basketball was already being played in the new centre as well.

"It has only been played in the new centre for about three months, but already there's been a 38 per cent increase in membership numbers, so new teams had to be created," Mr Johnson said.

The centre will be officially opened on Tuesday, March 31.

Another recently completed project is a $1.3m upgrade of the city's airport, funded through the state and federal governments.

"The new purpose-built terminal building caters for 60-plus passengers," Mr Johnson said.

"It was an upgrade that was needed.

"For some people, the airport is the first impression they'll have of the town."

Mr Johnson has been the mayor of Port Augusta since 2013.

He started as a councillor in 2006 at the age of 19.

The story Solar-driven tomato farm attracts global attention first appeared on Farm Online.

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