IT IS, finally, official. The former milk factory in Toora has a new lease of life, with its sale to Funton Holdings (FH), which has grand plans to set up an infant milk formula production facility to supply the Chinese market.
The news was made public last Thursday morning. At a quick on-site meeting en route to the opening of the Meeniyan wastewater treatment scheme and wetlands, Deputy Premier and Member for Gippsland South Peter Ryan congratulated Dajian Li from Funton Holdings on his investment and said it was “wonderful news for us as a community”.
A joint venture company, Viplus Dairy Pty Ltd, has been established by FH, with selected partners, to develop a milk drying, powder blending and canning facility at the Toora site, which was once a thriving milk factory – and a major employer in the district – but downscaled significantly in 2000 and since 2004 has lain idle.
With a capital expenditure estimated at $76.8 million, the proposed Viplus Dairy plant will process local milk and milk products into a blended infant milk powder. There is an initial target production of 10,000 tonnes per year, all proposed for export, with a total value of $300 million per year. At full scale, with future expansion, up to 30,000 tonnes per year may be produced at the site. Twenty people are likely to be employed at the first stage and up to 100 for Stage 2.
Much research has gone into the decision to purchase the Toora site, as a pre-feasibility report makes clear. It discloses that the site was chosen for a number of reasons. For a start, the site has over 6000 square metres of existing buildings which are expected to require only minor modifications or upgrades to be suitable for the proposed milk powder plant.
Also, Gippsland is recognised as one of the country’s foremost milk producing regions. “Milk supply is available year round and is generally not affected by seasonal weather conditions. The road system is good and transport facilities are efficient and well developed. For these reasons by international standards the cost of milk production is competitive.”
Dajian Li, who has lived in Australia for around ten years, said that Funton Holdings is a long-standing family company which has previously built power stations. He lives in Melbourne with his family and said he has been delighted with the warm welcome he has been given in South Gippsland.
He was first introduced to the area by local businessman John Anthony and has high hopes of eventually using Port Anthony to export to Chinese markets. He has also been in discussions for some time with the State Government and South Gippsland Shire Council as well as a range of authorities including South Gippsland Water, SP Ausnet and the EPA.
He said the state government and local government have already been very supportive and he is hopeful that a permit will be issued soon so that production can begin in about six months.
Dajian Li said that he has plans to build a factory almost double the size of the existing one and to use new technology as much as possible. Solar panels and extensive landscaping are on the agenda in order to create a “clean, green facility”. He is, he added, keen to employ locals as far as possible and he wants to work with the local community to refurbish parts of the factory for community use. He would welcome suggestions of how he can contribute to the Toora community.
John Anthony was at the Toora factory site on Thursday morning to share in the good news, along with Cr Jeanette Harding, Cr Kieran Kennedy, the shire’s Director of Development Services Phil Stone and Economic Development Officer Ken Fraser, and several excited members of the Toora community to whom the news had leaked out.
Cr Harding, who as a resident of Toora has been particularly keen to see the factory reborn and has worked tirelessly towards that end, was beside herself with excitement.
“This is the most wonderful day,” she said, adding as she beamed at Dajian Li: “A very big welcome to our new part of the family. We’re in a desperate state and we need you.”
Mr Ryan hailed the news of the purchase as “a new era for Toora”. He congratulated Council’s economic development staff on their input and promised to help with issues surrounding the factory’s power supply.
Mr Stone said Council has a project team working on the proposed development to expedite the planning permit. He said the date for the factory to be up and running was largely dependent on water and power but he recognised the urgency of the situation.
Toora dairy farmer Ray Argento said he was looking forward to hearing what price the new factory owners would be offering farmers to buy their milk and he hoped it would be competitive.