$60m cucumber farm stalls as major backer pulls out
A greenhouse expert who wants to put a roof over 30ha of Coast farmland has hit a hurdle after a major backer pulled out of the bid.
Apex Greenhouses boss Folco Faber remained confident the proposal on Yandina Bli Bli Rd, in Maroochy River, would become a reality as he searched for construction funding and a market into which to sell his product.
He said he was aware of the project when a development application was lodged with Sunshine Coast Council in early September, 2018, to build the greenhouses on the two neighbouring blocks owned by struggling former cane farmer Siro Bisinella.
Back then the development was being touted by Project Urban managing director Andrew Stevens as a $60 million cucumber growing facility that could bring up to 155 new jobs to the Coast.
Mr Stevens spoke on behalf of Sunny Coast Fresh Holdings, a company that had lodged the development application and was directed by Victorian horticulturalist Peter Van Den Goor.
Mr Van Den Goor also headed up Katunga Fresh, a large produce growing operation in Victoria.
At the time, Mr Stevens said Maroochy River greenhouses had been lodged as an alternative to Mr Van Den Goor's other option, which was to expand his Victorian operations further.
The council last year approved the development application to build six greenhouses, each 50,000sq m in size.
But it was not enough to sway Mr Van Den Goor to expand to the Coast.
Mr Faber has taken over Sunny Coast Fresh, with Australian Securities and Investments Commission documents showing a change in the company's officeholders and share arrangements in February this year.
"Basically it is like most of these things, we are still waiting on funding," Mr Faber said.
"Once the money is there things will happen pretty quickly."
He said he was also working to lock in contracts to supply a major supermarket chain.
"Some people will build these projects without having an offtake agreement.
"If you have all of this produce and you can't sell it you come unstuck pretty quickly."
Mr Faber said he didn't want to go into specifics of how that contract would be locked in but said "a bit of politics" came into it.
"Ideally you would want to have a direct line into those major supermarkets but that is not easy to do."
He said there was a risk when securing a direct line the new contract would upset other major suppliers and could in turn affect smaller suppliers.
"It is about trying to satisfy them that you are going to work as a partner with them."
Mr Faber said Mr Van Den Goor was originally going to be a grower and marketer for the Sunshine Coast project.
"He sort of had a change of heart."
He said that change was his decision to expand in Victoria instead.
"Obviously with Peter out of the picture … we've stepped in there."
Mr Faber said he wouldn't normally take on the role he had with Sunny Coast Fresh, having previously involved himself more with the construction of greenhouses.
"I thought it would be a shame if this project was to get mothballed."
He said there was a good chance the project would go ahead but it had been a difficult year.
"You need to get finance through," he said.
"There's a lot of money out there looking for a home at the moment."
The Daily tried to contact Mr Van Den Goor for comment.