The Latrobe Valley could be the site for an innovative vegetable processing hub that will turn ugly produce destined for the trash heap into tasty treats and health products.
The East Gippsland Food Cluster is looking into the feasibility of a processing plant to create value-added products like pastes, powders and vitamins from waste vegetables.
Food Cluster Chairman Andrew Bulmer said the application would be great for farmers who have to throw out anything unsuitable for supermarkets that only wanted unblemished produce.
“Vegetable waste is a national issue. Supermarkets want the perfect produce but we grow veggies outside under the influence of Mother Nature,” Mr Bulmer said.
Mr Bulmer said events such as hail storms meant farmers lost about 20 per cent of a crop each season.
He believes this sort of innovation could see farmers get 100 per cent harvest out of a crop by providing another avenue to market.
“Farmers will have the opportunity to break even. This is critical in regional economies and 50 per cent of Gippsland’s economy is driven from agriculture.”
Mr Bulmer said the Food Cluster had been working with Horticulture Innovation Australia and CSIRO which has been trialling the benefits of extruded broccoli.
He said he hoped the application could also be used with veggies which would otherwise be ploughed back into the soil.
Mr Bulmer said vitamin company Swisse was keen to jump on board to source locally-produced vegetables for its health range.
“We think the Latrobe Valley is a logical point to build the processing factory and it would mean a lot more jobs. The Latrobe Valley is a middle point and it would stimulate the economy if it went off,” he said.
“This will be a real opportunity and looking at real technology, and it will be a game-changer if we get it up in the region. We want this opportunity to be across the whole of Gippsland.”
The feasibility study will look into domestic and global markets, technology and infrastructure, business models and, if positive, a set of recommendations for where to go next.
The study is also backed by the Latrobe Valley Economic Facilitation Fund and Building Stronger Regions Fund.
Mr Bulmer said there would be a presentation of the findings for industry and key stakeholders.