Business owners band together for more financial assistance from the state and federal government

Mitchell Craig
By Mitchell Craig
Updated July 6 2022 - 4:41am, first published June 29 2022 - 6:00am

REPLACING broken equipment which cost Mountain Blue Farms about $4 million is essential to get the business back on track.

DAMAGE BILL: Mountain Blue Farms managing director Andrew Bell is hoping for more financial support from State and Federal government. Picture: Mitchell Craig

The family-owned business was established in 1978 and has built one of the largest blueberry breeding, farming and marketing businesses in the world.

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Mountain Blue operates two farms locally and another site in Atherton, Far North Queensland.

Managing director Andrew Bell joined Norco boss Michael Hampson and Summerland Credit Union chief executive John Williams in a united front at Lismore today.

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Hampson, said up to 240 jobs at Norco are at stake if more money doesn't flow before July 15 and was calling on for more financial assistance from state and federal government.

Bell expects his staff to be retained heading into the busier time of year in October and said he didn't expect to take on any workers if Norco is forced to stand down staff.

"We certainly don't want to be picking over the carcass and that would obviously be devastating for Lismore to have those losses," Bell said.

"These are 240 jobs are fulltime well-paying jobs and unfortunately the work we offer is more seasonable and isn't suitable for these people who live locally and have mortgages to pay."

The Mountain Blue Farms fruit is packed at its own state of the art packaging facility in Tabulam while it suffered millions of dollars worth of damage at its facility in South Lismore.

"We use very high-tech equipment; every berry goes through a camera and gets photographed in infrared and all those machines were destroyed," Bell said.

"The big impact for us is the expenses and some of our expansion plans for the future that have been slowed down.

"We're finalising our numbers but its in the vicinity of $4 million dollars.

"The prolonged period of rain has made things pretty difficult on the farms with getting tractors around and disease that are going to affect our yield this year.

"That money will go to getting us back to where we were with new machines and all the other things with lost like metal detectors, compressors, electric forklifts, cool rooms and all those sorts of things."

Bell expects staff numbers to remain steady ahead of the busier months

"It depends on the time of the year, on the day of the flood we had 121 fulltime staff but if you asked me that in October it would be around 800," he said.

"We very deliberately try to shop locally with local suppliers and local tradesman for all our projects.

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"We believe in giving back to the community, we're involved at the Winsome Hotel (soup kitchen), my dad and step mum have spent a lot of time over there and we're always looking at ways to give back.

"We've been here as a family-owned business for 40 years and we plan to be here for us long as we can.

"It's obviously been a big setback but we're going to keep going, we'll get through it, but it has been a challenging time.

"I'm told there is an Agricultural package coming at the end of July, which is great, but money needs to start coming out the door and getting into businesses pockets so they can get back to where they were and employ people moving forward."

Mitchell Craig

Mitchell Craig

News and sport reporter

Australian Community Media journalist with over 10 year's experience in providing quality news and sport stories.