Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner has welcomed new investment of tens of millions of dollars in interest-free loans by the Woolworths Organic Growth Fund in the agricultural sector.
Speaking from the Organic Farm Gate in the Lockyer Valley, Mr Furner said Woolworths’ Organic Growth Fund was a partnership with Toowoomba-based Heritage Bank to provide interest-free loans to organic enterprises for land acquisition, new produce varieties, new facilities and equipment.
“These loans or grants will also be available to farmers who convert their conventional operations to organic production,” Mr Furner said.
“There is growing demand for organic food in Australia and internationally with consumers prepared to pay a premium for organic fruit and vegetables.
“Shifting to organic production offers growers a real opportunity to increase their revenue.”
Mr Furner said the organics market in Australia is worth approximately $2.4 billion and had grown almost 90 per cent since 2012.
“Woolworths plans to support the industry with $30 million over five years in grants and interest-free loans to eligible organic fruit and vegetable growers to expand their farming operations,” Mr Furner said.
“Participating producers can also secure supply contracts for organic fruit and vegetables with Woolworths.
“The Queensland Government also offers a range of support for rural businesses to value add or develop new products.”
The Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority (QRIDA) administers these programs, which include:
- $10 million Rural Economic Development Grants program to help agricultural-related projects that generate employment opportunities. Up to $250 000 is available as a matching co-contribution to successful applicants. The first round of applications have recently closed. Two further rounds of funding will be available during the three-year term of the program.
- The Primary Industry Productivity Enhancement Scheme helps producers to achieve their organic production goals. The First Start Loans allow producers to purchase organic farms, while Sustainability Loans facilitate the maintenance, improvement and diversification of organic enterprises across Queensland.
Mr Furner said developing new markets was critical to the future expansion of the health and innovative food industry.
“Queensland is an ideal location to benefit from the Woolworths’ Organic Growth Fund with our state already growing over one-third of the nation’s produce,” he said.
“We grow more vegetables than any other state in Australia, worth $1.2 billion per annum. We’re also the second largest state in the production of fruit and nuts worth $1.8 billon per annum.”
Woolworths Supermarkets Head of Produce Paul Turner said more customers than ever were choosing to buy organic fruit and vegetables, with demand growing at 20 per cent per year.
“Working with Queensland-based Heritage Bank, the Woolworths Organic Growth Fund represents our long-term commitment to satisfying this growing consumer demand, allowing us to continue our partnership with local farmers to make sure we’re ready for future demand,” Mr Turner said.
“With the assistance of the fund’s interest free loans and grants, we can help farmers adopt innovative approaches that will enable the range of organic fruit and vegetables on offer to grow, making it more readily available and affordable for customers.
“We encourage any Queensland fruit and vegetable grower looking to expand their organics business or enter the organic category to consider applying to the Fund, Mr Turner added.
Heritage Bank CEO Peter Lock said they were thrilled to partner with Woolworths in launching this extremely worthwhile initiative.
“The Fund will provide a significant boost to the organic farming sector and Heritage are pleased that we can use our expertise and resources to help farmers via the Woolworths Organic Growth Fund,” said Mr Lock.