MPC General Manager Steve Lee is exciting to introduce clean energy into the production facility near Lismore.
MPC General Manager Steve Lee is exciting to introduce clean energy into the production facility near Lismore. Marc Stapelberg

'Manufacturers around the world come knocking on our door'

THE macadamia industry grew from a small boutique industry in the late 70s and early 80s to being an "absolute economic powerhouse of the Northern Rivers".

Macadamia Processing Co is 100 per cent Australian Grower-owned with 180 macadamia grower shareholders located in the NSW Northern Rivers region and Bundaberg QLD.

MPC currently owns and operates a macadamia processing facility at Alphadale near Lismore and Pacific Gold Macadamias (PGM) located in Bundaberg.

The total throughput from the two facilities represents 46 per cent of the Australian crop.

General manager Steven Lee said the Northern Rivers is probably the second largest macadamia growing area in Australia now behind Bundaberg.

There is certainly still industry expansion happening in this region, particularly on the coastal plain area Mr Lee said.

And there's strong belief that will continue into the future.

"All farming practices now are machine operated function and there's a move towards machine automation as part of that process," he said.

"I think everyone's been swept up in the challenge of robotics and how to implement that to improve efficiency and reduce operating costs."

Macadamia Marketing International, the sales arm of the business is forecast to turnover $225 million in the 2019 season.

MPC employs 185 through its Alphadale facility.

"We've got about 340 growers that deliver to us so by the time you factor in all of those farms and their employees, there would be several thousand people involved in the supply chain in getting product to us," Mr Lee said.

The factory employs seasonal workers, agronomists, engineers, tradesmen, production and quality team including food technologists and biologists, and people with micro biological experience, and accounting and marketing teams.

Mr Lee said MPC had a solid strategic focus on growth.

"We want to not only grow the industry in its entirety but grow our influence over that by increasing the amount of product that we process.

"To do that we will require more resources and we will need to be implementing technology to ensure we maintain a competitive advantage against countries that may have lower costs of production.

"We just need to be smarter about the way we process and really leverage Australia's clean, green image and the food safety standards of the product we can produce."

MPC relies heavily on machine vision systems such as colour sorting.

In countries where labour is cheap all of the sorting is done by hand, but MPC uses a lot of machine-vision systems to sort at a high degree of accuracy at a relatively low cost.

"We also have pasteurisation systems. We are the first macadamia processor industry in the world to install a pasteuriser capable of achieving a five log reduction of salmonella," Mr Lee said.

"We are always on the lookout for new technology.

"In 2014 we invested $4.5 million in an energy efficient drying system where we burned the waste shelf on our fracking system to generate the heat we use for drying the crop. That's reduced our environmental footprint by using a renewable fuel source where we used to use LPG.

"We are of a large-enough size that these manufactures around the world come knocking on our door if they've got equipment that they'd like us to evaluate."