Construction of a robotic dairy and artisan cheese factory is officially underway at Agritas utilising a two million dollar grant from the Morrison Government.
The money was initially promised as an election commitment of $4.8 million in March 2019 to the Duck River Meadows project which includes $2.8 million for a tourism and information hub at Agritas.
The facility in its current capacity is closed, with the building being hired out to serve different purposes.
“We are confident that we will get some serious support funding during the coming years. At present, the training facility is hired out for a variety of uses, including training, Circular Head Gymnastics, with training as the main aim of the board,” said Deputy Chairman Graeme Petty.
Construction is set to be complete on September 1 pending the arrival of robotic parts from Europe, with the facility to be opened later in the year for public viewing.
The Agritas board have released some goals to accompany the facility including: building a world class facility that highlights emerging dairy technology and the positive aspects of dairying, to use the facility as an aid to promote and celebrate dairying as a noble industry, to provide an engaging encounter for school children including primary and secondary students seeding long term employment opportunities in the agricultural sector, to provide an engaging encounter for tourist visitors and to provide a training resource for Agritas and other training providers.
Federal Member for Braddon Gavin Pearce said that the venture is a great asset for Circular Head and could see the region become the dairy capital of Australia.
“As far as I’m concerned this is the epicentre of dairy farming in the state,” said Mr Pearce.
“We supply 11% of Australia’s milk right here in Tasmania and I’d like to see this as a centre of excellence for training and development in the dairy industry throughout the entire nation.”
These developments have caused significant unrest in the community, with a number of people concerned about the ramifications of an operational dairy farm and cheese factory inside the town boundary.
In accordance with council processes Agritas lodged a development application for the dairy and cheese factory in January 2020 for council to look over as a planning authority. Council requested additional information to allow the assessment to continue.
In March council placed the application on public notice, to which there were a number of replies expressing concern.
Among the most common complaints was the management of the effluent system, the impact of value on surrounding properties, the location of the farm, Mayor Quilliam being a member of the Agritas Board and the lack of a community consultancy period.
In a response released to council as a statutory planning authority reviewed on March 23 Agritas provided detailed answers to the letters received.
The response explained that the dairy would operate as a model dairy with in ground effluent tanks, and that the tanks would be constructed in such a way to limit leakage. Agritas stated that checks to the tanks would be undertaken at least quarterly, and that leaks would be dealt with as they were discovered.
When effluent is applied to pasture it will only be done under ideal conditions with minimal wind and under favourable weather conditions. If conditions do no permit the tanks will be removed from the site and disposed of.
In regards to the impact on surrounding property values the report said “Agritas believes surrounding land will have enhanced values, given the expected pasture movement of the operation.”
Complaints about the location of the farm and the lack of a consultancy period were cleared up by explaining that the property, along with surrounding residences, is in a rural resource zone. As such, the project does not require the approval of neighbours to go ahead.
As a member of the Agritas board Mayor Quilliam declared a declaration of pecuniary interest and left the room while council made a decision on the planning authority items.
In acting as strictly a planning authority, the council body decided to issue a discretionary permit based on five discretions: the agricultural use of the council owned land fronting on Grant Street, the use of a cheese factory in the rural resource zone, the proposed grain silo adjacent to the dairy and cheese factory which will have a light reflectance value of more than 40 per cent and the gravel hardstand surrounding the dairy not having an all weather surface.
As strictly a planning authority body, councillors could comment only about the discretionary issues and not about the venture as a whole.