Home' Grower : August 2012 Contents The South Australian Grower -- August 2012
Zerella raises bar
on grading, packing
By LIZ COTTON
MAJOR South Australian
Zerella Fresh's new
optical sizing and grading line
launched late last year at Virginia
aims to take quality and volume
offerings to higher standards.
The high-tech facility was part of
$4-million upgrade of the
company's Virginia operations and
was formally opened by South
Australia's Primary Industries and
Biosecurity executive director Don
Features include hydro-cooling
and vegetable polishing
capabilities, and optical grading
and sizing technology imported
Zerella Fresh managing director
Mark Pye said the revamped
facility would improve the shelf life
and quality of produce, increase
production capacity for potatoes
and carrots, and provide a
foundation for growing the
company's onion division.
"Zerella Fresh is committed to
growing, packing and distributing
vegetables of the highest quality to
supermarkets, merchants and retailers
across Australia," Mr Pye said.
"This new equipment will enable
us to raise production levels and
quality standards even higher.
"These new facilities set a new
standard for vegetable packing sheds
and will help us streamline
operations for our major customers,
including retail partners and
Between Zerella Fresh and partner
organisation Parilla Premium
Potatoes -- which form the Pye
Group -- more than 100,000 tonnes
of potatoes, 40,000t onions and
30,000t carrots are grown, packed
and distributed ever y year.
It makes the operation one of the
top-three potato and carrot
producers in Australia and the
country's number-one onion
The companies employ 300 staff
and boast an annual turnover of
more than $100 million from
their 18,000ha of cropping
land in Parilla and Robe.
Parilla Premium Potatoes
produces carrots under centre-
pivot irrigation and supplies
both fresh and processing
markets in Australia and
overseas. The carrot season
runs from April till October.
Mr Pye took on a serious
interest in farming at an early
age. He began finetuning his
'market gardening technique'
during school holidays and at
the age of 18, leased 12
hectares from his family to
grow Japanese pumpkins for
export to the island-nation.
Soon, he had gathered
enough funds to buy some
dairy cattle and at the age of
21, was milking 300 cows a day
in his homeland of New
Mark and his family sold this
venture in 1990 and moved to
the Mallee of South Australia
and with his father, Alan, he
started Parilla Premium
Potatoes Pty Ltd.
Mark had learnt the nuances
of potato production from his
family's New Zealand enterprise
and got right into the job,
applying his knowledge to the
Mallee conditions which had
305-millimetres of annual
rainfall compared to 889mm in
Mark leased 600 acres of land
at Parilla in the Mallee from
local cereal producers,
constr ucted a pivot-style
irrigation system, and planted
Russet Burbank and Kennebec
varieties of potatoes.
Emerging markets boost carrot trade
CARROT production in South
Australia may be relatively small
but the valuable crop earned
$42,514,569 million last year and
is set to increase in value as new
According to the country's peak
vegetable growers group AUSVEG,
carrots are Australia's fifth most
valuable vegetable crop, accounting
for 5.6pc of total vegetable
production with a gross value in
excess of $180m in 2007-08.
Australia runs a positive balance
of trade in carrots, with exports
rising by 20 per cent in 2009 to
$46m. In the past, strong
competition has to some extent
eroded the country's share of
carrot imports into South East
Asian economies but the
development of new Middle East
markets such as the United Arab
Emirates and Saudi Arabia hold a
lot of promise.
While carrot production has
remained steady in recent years,
the area planted to the crop has
trended down with productivity
gains leading to higher yields.
AUSVEG said national production
was fairly concentrated in three
states which account for about
70pc of total production --
Western Australia (about 31pc of
national total), Tasmania (23pc)
and South Australia (17pc). In SA,
616 hectares is cropped to carrots
across 19 properties, producing
about 45,000 tonnes annually.
The carrot market consists of
the fresh market segment and the
processed segment which is
predominantly the frozen market.
Australia has a wide range of
carrot varieties including the
small and sweet variety Dutch,
Imperator, Nantes and Kuroda.
Nantes has become the country's
most important and widely grown
carrot by far.
Carrots are available all year
round but are at their best value
from March through to August.
He negotiated contracts to
supply McCain Foods 8000t of
potatoes for processing while
growing 40ha for the fresh
Mark employed local people
for har vesting and for several
years, continued at this supply
In 1992, Parilla Premium
Potatoes bought a 2023ha farm
and diversified into carrot
production with contracts to a
lucrative carrot juice market.
This diversification included
sponsoring local employees to
gain expertise in the field.
By 1996, the company had
expanded its share in the potato
market by buying a share in
Zerella Holdings to supply the
fresh potato market all year. At
this stage the company was
producing 405ha of potatoes
and 40ha of carrots.
Zerella Holdings is a major
supplier of potatoes, onions and
carrots to Woolworths and
other supermarket chains.
Mark sourced a larger local
workforce and professional
agronomist's advice to ensure
The company's marketshare
saw rapid expansion on the
back of the acquisition of more
fresh land, expanded water
licence and the addition of
162ha of onions and cool
Upgrade streamlines opera-
Shelf life, production capacity
Major supplier to supermarket
Zerella Fresh managing director Mark Pye with PIRSA'S Don
Plowman at the launch of its upgraded production facility in Virginia
last year. The company paid $4 million for the modernisation.
Between Zerella Fresh and Parilla Premium Potatoes, more than
100,000t of potatoes, 40,000t of onions and 30,000t of carrots are
grown, packed and distributed annually.
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