Multimillion-dollar business mushrooming

ALAN WOOD
Last updated 05:00 16/08/2014

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The second stage of a multi-year $120 million dollar redevelopment and expansion project at Meadow Mushroom's Hornby agricultural production facility has opened to cater for increased mushroom demand from Kiwis.

A new $12 million investment into the extension of Meadow Mushrooms' Christchurch farm is to add a further 60 jobs and increase production by 25 per cent or 37,000 kilograms of fresh, white mushrooms a week.

The company now employs about 500 staff.

Owned by former National cabinet minister Philip Burdon and his family, Meadow Mushrooms was set up in the 1970s after Burdon and his partner Roger Giles experimented with growing mushrooms in Cyprus in the late 1960s. That operation was mothballed in 1974 after the Turkish invasion.

The Giles family sold out more than a year ago.

Philip Burdon's wealth is estimated at $85 million, according to the 2014 NBR Rich List, which credits Meadow Mushrooms with annual revenues of more than $50m.

The company consolidated production in Christchurch several years ago, closing a Morrinsville, Waikato operation.

It is also moving some Prebbleton operations to the Hornby site, which is easily accessed off the new southern motorway.

Chief executive John Barnes said the latest extension added to expansion by the company on site in 2011.

About $60m had been spent so far over the last five years, with another $60m or so to come in the next four to six years on a three-stage project.

The factory upgrade enables extra growth in its brown and white mushrooms that end up on supermarket and food store shelves at a standard wholesale price for the retailers.

"The mushrooms we pick today, we send out something like 60 or 70 per cent of them out today. That means in the South Island they're in the shop the next day . . . in the North Island it's plus 24 hours," Barnes said.

The browns and whites are two varieties of the same species and after each growing stage the growing rooms are steam-cleaned at 70 degrees Celsius to help keep disease at a minimum.

Some of the modernisation has been to take production on to long aluminium shelves rather than wooden trays.

The shelving for mushrooms can be stacked five-high, with other automation including a conveyor system used to feed in fresh compost to grow batches.

The new aluminium trays were accessed by height-adjustable Dutch "lorries", each worth about $20,000, with the modern system enabling more than a million mushrooms to be hand-picked, trimmed and graded each week.

Barnes said a new office administration and headquarters construction project would start before the end of the year and would be followed by an expansion of the compost facilities and growing shed conversions.

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The company produces about 1000 tonnes of compost a week, much of it at the Prebbleton operation with 15 staff. Once the straw-chicken manure compost has been used to produce mushrooms it is recycled, going back to wheat farms on the Canterbury plains.

"We're actually working with Plant and Food [Research] at the moment. We're in the second of a three-year series of trials so that we can try and characterise the benefits of using the spent compost to grow various arable crops."

The extra 25 per cent increase would help Kiwis catch up with Australians who ate more mushrooms.

- BusinessDay

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