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That investment has involved a high-tech German-made Petkus seed-dressing plant, international border exemptions and a dedicated team of people working to get cutting-edge technology up and running in Ashburton in time for harvest season.
Luisetti Seeds production director Vincent Luisetti said the new plant was the first of its kind in New Zealand and one of the biggest in the world outside the United States.
It will process ryegrass, fescue, cocksfoot and cereals and give Luisetti clients, of whom many were in European markets, a better quality product, put more money in the grower’s pocket and offer customer satisfaction on delivery times internationally and within New Zealand, Mr Luisetti said.
He added that 4500 extra tonnes had been grown with the new plant in mind, which was
expected to be operational this week.
The plant, which involves a seed cleaning, treating and packing production line, could process 3.5 tonnes of ryegrass an hour and more than 20 tonnes of grain an hour.
Existing machinery processed about 1 tonne an hour.
The cereal packer has been set at 10 tonnes an hour to allow staff to safely keep up with the semi-automated packer.
The process had been two and a-half years in the planning, from design to reality.
The company, which has offices in Ashburton and Rangiora, regarded the investment as giving it an edge in a highly competitive industry.
It warranted Mr Luisetti and operations manager Mark Frampton’s travel to Germany in 2019 to view seed-cleaning equipment options for the Ashburton site.
Mid Canterbury was considered the heart of New Zealand’s seed and grain industry.
Ashburton has at least seven competing seed-cleaning companies, and that did not include independent growers who did their own cleaning, Mr Luisetti said.
Special border exemptions, given with support of Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor, allowed Petkus engineer Gildo Wallstein, of Germany, and technology manager Roger Cook, of Australia, into the country to help with installation.
Mr Wallstein has since returned to Germany but Mr Cook is still in Ashburton overseeing the final setup, helped by local tradesmen from Laser Electrical Ashburton.
Other support came from contractor Calder Stewart Ashburton, Ashburton Engineering Ltd and engineers from JP Marshall of Te Rapa.
The support from local tradesmen during the process had been invaluable, Mr Luisetti said.
Their input had helped keep the installation on track for the start of the season, especially when delivery, initially set up to be staggered as required for the installation, was thrown by Covid-19.
Eleven 44-foot containers arrived at the Dobson St yard in Ashburton on the same day, and all needed to be unpacked and returned to prevent additional costs, Mr Luisetti said.
Adding to the delivery chaos was the presence of staff from Ministry of Primary Industries who were on site to inspect the load.
There had been a few minor installation issues but for the most part it had gone smoothly, Mr Luisetti said.
The plant was fully automated and had Wi-Fi connection with cameras to allow staff to see product flow and production from anywhere in the world.
Last week, testing on the plant in Ashburton was done remotely by engineers in Germany.
Other features include a pre-cleaner with up to 380 different sized integrated riddle scrappers and the latest technology in double head separating.
It uses an 18-horsepower motor which can split double heads, a particular problem in turf ryegrass and feed them back into the main line. In the past they have been discarded.
The treating and bagging facility was operated independently from the seed-cleaning line.
That meant the seed-cleaning plant could be used for other existing contracts in the food industry.
The packing system was a bespoke design that allowed two bulk one-tonne bags to be filled at the same time and then taken away by forklift on a double pallet.
There was also a dust collection and management system and a specially designed clean-down feature to minimise the time needed for cleaning and to prevent contamination.