Montague officially opens the doors

Addressing the crowd at the official opening. Picture: SUPPLIED

Narre Warren North-based fruit grower Montague has officially opened its new, environmentally friendly packing facility.

One of Australia’s largest fruit growers, Montague expects the new packing and distribution facility’s innovative technologies to heavily increase its packing capacity of apples and stonefruit to meet the growing demand from markets across Australia and the globe.

The expansive new 53,200m2 fruit processing facility has been almost five years in the making and is part of a $54 million-dollar development on the Narre Warren North site.

The facility will use state-of-the-art grading technology, with three grading systems in place to inspect fruit as it enters the production process to ensure the highest quality of fruit to consumers.

The stonefruit grader began operation in mid-January 2021, and all apple production lines have been fully operational from mid-March 2021, in time for next year’s apple season.

The site will see Montague’s stonefruit packing capacity increase by 166 per cent, bringing in 58.3 million pieces of stonefruit each season.

Montague’s annual apple packing capacity will increase by 75 per cent, delivering an impressive 227 million apples a year.

The facility has also created 50 new full-time jobs.

A key focus for the development was increasing environmental responsibility.

Montague continue to incorporate sustainable and energy-efficient initiatives to lower CO2 emissions within the business’ operations, while reducing operational costs and resource inputs.

The facility’s building design offers thermal efficiency and significant natural sunlight, which will reduce electricity needs.

The facility utilises state-of-the-art equipment including vertical cold storage which is 60 per cent smaller than a traditional room, while still able to store 3000 bins, the same number of bins found in a traditional room.

This, combined with the use of minimal lighting, reduces the building’s energy footprint.

The room is primarily operated by machinery, which reduces manual handling and potential for human error.

In an Australian first, the pack house engages new technologies and equipment including an automated storage retrieval system (ASRS), a heat exchanger, using heat from the refrigeration to heat water for wax drying tunnels and JASA Sleever, a 100 per cent recyclable packaging solution to ideally replace plastic punnets to paper and cardboard punnets and an automatic carton box filler called Oporo.

Montague also is the first in the world to form a fully integrated IT system across the facility including fruit tracking, paperless, Compac, Demanik and Link Fresh.

“As leaders of our industry, we continue to explore innovative ways to ensure sustainable operations in our business practices. Through this we can continue to deliver better quality and consistent fruit to our consumers,” said Rowan Little, chief innovation officer at Montague.

Natural gas is the typical heating source for water, however due to the facility’s location, natural gas isn’t available.

Montague has worked closely with refrigeration design engineers, Liquid Ice Refrigeration, and production equipment suppliers Compac, to use reclaimed heat from the refrigeration process for heating.

Glaciem Cooling, who are experts in innovative natural solutions, provided refrigeration and heating units in a combined package that work alongside the ammonia refrigeration systems and the Compac production equipment to meet the high temperature and demand requirements.

This design collaboration with key innovators in the industry will provide the most cost efficient and effective refrigeration system and hot water demand system known to exist in this type of production facility.

In addition, the facility will save 3 million litres of water annually, as the water used during the packing process is recycled and filtered.

All rainwater will be retained on-site with two 500,000 litre tanks for usage in amenities, cooling towers for the refrigeration systems, or orchard irrigation.

Wastewater will be treated on-site and used for irrigation purposes in landscaping and gardens.

The facility will also have solar panels, heat exchangers will heat water for wax drying tunnels and fruit waste will be transferred to pig and worm farms.

“This is a very proud day for us,” said managing director and third generation grower Scott Montague on the day.

“It’s another major step forward in securing the future for Montague, our employees, our growers, our customers and all of our stakeholders.

“It’s a vote of confidence in the outlook, and in the world’s demand for fresh, clean, healthy and natural produce from Australia – demand which we believe will only continue to grow.”