The greenhouse concentrated solar power (CSP) complex will grow more than $50 million worth of produce a year.
About 100 jobs will be created in the construction phase, which will take about 18 months, with a further 200 positions being created once the greenhouse is operational.
The brainchild of English banker Philipp Saumweber, the Sundrop Farms greenhouse project has been backed by KKR, the world’s largest private equity firm, and has a 10-year supply agreement with supermarket giant Coles. Mr Saumweber said the KKR funding would be used to significantly expand Sundrop Farms’ glasshouse facility at Port Augusta and underpin the firm’s international development.
Today, SA Premier Jay Weatherill announced that the Goverment had pledged $6 million from its Regional Development Fund towards the expansion.
He said the Suncorp complex would go from one greenhouse to 100.
Sundrop grows its crops in state-of-the-art glasshouses using a unique technology developed to address the water and food security issues typical in arid regions.
The Sundrop system uses concentrated solar power to create the heat, electricity and desalinated water needed to feed and power its farming operations.
“We grow food where land is too arid for farming, freshwater is in short supply and domestic food security is a concern,” Mr Saumweber said.
“Farming with typical agricultural inputs would be unsustainable in these regions so Sundrop uses renewable energy to heat, power and water its crops.
“Sundrop is the world’s first commercially and environmentally sustainable arid climate agriculture business and this significant investment is at the heart of our growing strategy.”
Mr Saumweber said the greenhouse facility would produce more than 15,000 tonnes of vegetables annually for markets across Australia.
Sundrop and KKR intend to develop a hub of agricultural innovation for arid climates in Port Augusta which would blaze a trail for further development in countries with similar environmental conditions.
The KKR’s investment would also support plans to expand into the Middle East, North America and other supply-constrained markets around the world.
Port Augusta Mayor Sam Johnson said the expansion announcement was amazing news for Port Augusta, the Upper Spencer Gulf region, and the State.
“Port Augusta will be home to one of the largest greenhouse developments in Australia
with tremendous potential for future growth,” Mayor Johnson said.
“It will also bring with it hundreds of jobs and a research and development hub of
agricultural innovation for arid areas.”
Coles Managing Director John Durkan attended this morning’s press conference, which featured a large Coles advertising banner and a table covered in pallets of tomatoes.
Mr Weatherill rejected suggestions the Government was giving Coles a free plug.
He argued the Government’s contribution was helping to create local jobs and it was “irrelevant” where SA produce was sold.
Regional Development Minister Geoff Brock said he had visited the farm and seen tomato plants growing almost 5m high.
Mr Durkan said demand for truss tomatoes “consistently outweighs supply” and was expected to grow by between 15 and 25 per cent each year.
Mr Weatherill said schools in Port Augusta had begun offering horticultural training to “prepare students for potential opportunities that this project will provide”.
Work will start immediately on the expansion and is due for completion in 2016.