Sour taste for Shepparton

Sour taste for Shepparton


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As workers left the Shepparton factory on Friday afternoon, many were too worried to talk.

As workers left the Shepparton factory on Friday afternoon, many were too worried to talk.

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UNLIKE some others, Australia's fruit industry does not have a tariff to protect it - nor can it rely on government assistance to buy time.

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UNLIKE some others, Australia's fruit industry does not have a tariff to protect it - nor can it rely on government assistance to buy it time, grower Peter Hall says.

"Giving SPC Ardmona (SPCA) assistance isn't propping up an ailing industry, desperate for money," he said.

"We're not like the car industry. But the crazy thing is the federal government gave Cadbury $15 million last year. We're asking for money to transition for a future."

Mr Hall's family association with SPCA in Victoria dates back to the 1920s when his grandfather began supplying the preserves company with fruit.

But if the Coca-Cola Amatil subsidiary's operations at Shepparton in ­Victoria close, Mr Hall said he would have to destroy 160 hectares of peach and pear trees.

"About 20 to 30 per cent of our business is fruit for canning [at SPCA]," he said.

"Those fruit trees will be no longer viable."

Mr Hall said he didn't think $50 million from the state and federal governments was "a lot of money".

"Everyone now needs to show their cards," he said.

As workers left the Shepparton factory on Friday afternoon, many were too worried to talk.

An engineer from the canning facility, who didn't want to be named, said he didn't know where he would find work. "Yeah the mood inside is pretty bleak," the man who has worked there for 25 years said.

Another worker, Mark, who has worked as a forklift driver for the company for 40 years, said he thought the government should give the company money to transition.

"It would help keep us," he said. "But we're Coca-Cola so they're not going to."

He said "nowhere" would he be able to find alternative work.

Committee for Shepparton chairman David McKenzie said SPCA was an important part of the economy but it wasn't underpinning it.

"The dairy sector is playing a bigger part and it's the great irrigation the region has [from the Goulburn River] that makes the place tick and we've got milk production escalating rapidly," he said.

But grower Doug Brown rejects the suggestion to turn his orchard into a dairy farm:"Not with the size I've got, and the irrigation is set up for horticulture," he said. "If they [SPC Ardmona] close our business would stop. We supply mainly to the cannery."

Local cafe owner Neil Verhoeven took a redundancy from the fruit preserver two years ago when he "saw the writing on the wall".

He said the closure would "touch the whole town", even his business, which sells Goulburn Valley juices manufactured at the factory. Most of his customers worked at the plant.

Fruit Growers Victoria general manager, and secretary of the Canned Fruits Industry Council, John Wilson, said it was "a bit rich" the Abbott government were using the excuse that ownership of SPCA was held by Coca Cola Amatil, a rich company that could invest.

The story Sour taste for Shepparton first appeared on Farm Online.

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