A food hub is planned for land near Ballina Byron Gateway Airport.
A food hub is planned for land near Ballina Byron Gateway Airport. Jay Cronan

Food hub planned on back of industry boom

A DEDICATED 'food hub' in Ballina could be the first hotspot for food producers operating within the Northern Rivers, an industry tipped as the next engine of economic growth and job creation in the area.

Ballina Shire strategic planner Simon Scott said Ballina Shire Council is currently looking at the feasibility of establishing a food hub on land that council owns adjacent to the Ballina Airport and the Southern Cross Industrial Estate.

"Leveraging the exposure provided by Australia's fastest growing regional airport, the project has the potential to link the region's food brand with Australia's major capital cities of Sydney and Melbourne and beyond," he said.

"Whilst still in early stages of planning, it is anticipated the precinct could accommodate a broad range of businesses of various sizes and stages of development.

"Importantly, support for food 'start-ups' is something that industry is crying out for so we will also be looking at opportunities for start-up 'incubators' to help small producers develop new products and grow.

"While still at an early stage, the project will involve further engagement with industry, master-planning, financial modelling, and consultation with the broader community, which will be advanced more during 2019." 

The proposed Ballina Food Hub could be located nearby the proposed INXS Museum and a film studio. 

A survey with food producers and manufacturers conducted by the local chapter of the Regional Development Agency (RDA) confirmed the regional food manufacturing industry has high growth expectations for the next five-year period.

Mr Scott, who developed and supported the collation of the survey's data, said 80 per cent of food producers indicated some expansion expectations, with 36 per cent of respondents anticipating the need for premises in the range of 200 to 999 sqm.

"The survey has confirmed a lot of what the region's economic development officers and government agencies were already aware of, anecdotally, from working with local food producers," he said.

"In particular, the survey confirms the high growth expectations of industry and need for additional space to accommodate expansion. What was surprising, however, was the great diversity of food production already occurring in the region, from cereals to salads, liquor, meat products, seafood and high-end organic coffee and teas."

The survey results also indicated manufacturing businesses employing 6-50 workers may increase from 21 per cent to 42 per cent in the next five years.

Mr Scott said both state and local government in the region are actively exploring ways to support the development of the local food industry.

"In some cases, this involves facilitating rural food tourism and several councils are looking at ways to support industry needs through the establishment of food manufacturing precincts or 'food hubs'.