SPC battles energy costs as season starts

January 06, 2018

Elizabeth Knight working on the apricot line yesterday. Elizabeth from Numurkah, has worked 18 seasons at SPC.

The fruit processing season has kicked off for SPC with the new season’s apricots, but the company is battling with a huge increase in energy costs.

The company took on an expanded casual work force to handle the surge of apricots just before Christmas.

SPC manufacturing general manager Simon Taylor said the apricots will mostly likely finish mid next week, then the company’s processing operations will ramp up when the peaches come on stream at the end of January.

‘‘We’re about a week later than normal with most of the fruit because of the weather conditions in December,’’ Mr Taylor said.

The biggest production run will be with tomatoes, expected to start in February, when they anticipate processing about 45000 tonnes.

Employment is expected to peak at about 650 when the biggest crops hit the processing lines.

Mr Taylor is excited about the prospects of this year, as the parent company, CCA, will soon announce further investment in processing machinery.

However, he is concerned energy prices are hitting the bottom line.

The company has copped a $4million increase in the cost of gas and electricity in the past financial year, representing a 60 per cent increase.

‘‘We’re doing a feasibility study at the moment on alternatives and we’re working with Regional Development Victoria,’’ Mr Taylor said.

‘‘We’ve had a lot of support from the State Government and we are looking at alternatives to gas for our boilers, but also to manage our processes more efficiently.’’

Solar energy, LED lighting and load management are part of the feasibility study.

SPC management has met with the Victorian Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio to explain the impacts of energy costs on the business.

Mr Taylor said affordable energy prices used to be a strong selling point for manufacturing in Victoria, but if the prices kept climbing, businesses would have to make some tough decisions.

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