Locklands Seed Potatoes owner Peter Lock said the new factory had been built to replace the old shed located west of Parndana, which was destroyed during the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20.
“The fire took the shed, backpacker accommodation, our house, my mum’s house – everything,” Lock said.
The new shed has been rebuilt on a 50-by-50 metre site where the old shed stood and contains two 300-tonne cool rooms to store the seed potatoes.
Lock said he had secured a $1 million loan through Business SA’s new Strengthening Business services to help cover the estimated $3 million worth of fire damage.
He received another $1.9 million from the federal government’s Black Summer Bushfire Recovery Grants program to help build a new grading plant and workers’ accommodation.
At the moment, six emergency pods and two caravans are set up on site as temporary living quarters for Lock and his workers.
Lock said the new facility will allow him to increase production even without the usual backpacker labour force he relied on before the fires and COVID restrictions.
Before the pandemic, Lock said he had 12 workers but that has been reduced to seven due to labour shortages.
“We can’t hit full production and process enough in a day,” he said.
The funding will go towards a state-of-the-art processing plant that is currently being built in England and is set to arrive in 18 months.
“The time it takes for this plant to do in one day, this new plant will do in three hours using the same amount of people,” Lock said.
The project will see a generational change to agricultural practices by increasing the tonnage of seed potatoes produced on KI.
Lock said Kangaroo Island is prime agricultural land for seed potatoes because of its strict biosecurity protocols, is disease-free because the “sea all around creates a quarantine zone”, and has ideal weather conditions.
“Kangaroo Island is responsible for 25 per cent of Australia’s seed potato production and distributes all over Australia to growers,” Lock said.
By the end of May, Lock said he will have sent out around 500 tonnes of seed potatoes.
Lock said the fire was “horrendous” and that they are “still picking up stuff.”
Local grower Richard Trethewey made his shed available to two growers including Lock while his shed was being rebuilt.
Lock said the comradery of local growers was “bloody awesome” in this time of devastation.
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