The owner of a new blueberry farm being established at Waterview Heights near Grafton says he expects to employ 3,000 people once it reaches full production in two years’ time.
Over the past few years, Woolgoolga man Harjap Singh Dosanjh says he has established “smaller farms around the Woolgoolga area”.
Over a year ago, he established a 100 acre blueberry farm at Four Mile Lane, Clarenza, “where they said they would never grow”.
Mr Dosanjh said there were 50 people regularly working at the Four Mile Lane farm, where picking has been underway since February.
“The farm in Four Mile Lane is 300 acres,” he said. “We are just completing the final 200 acres in the next two to three months; we will then, before the end of the year, start planting on the new [2,100 acre] farm at Waterview Heights.”
Mr Dosanjh said the blueberry bushes would be ready to pick in “12 to 18 months”.
On how 3,000 workers will be housed, Mr Dosanjh said that and other logistical issues would be addressed as the new farm and his business partnership with a Canadian company, Aquilini Investment Group, progresses.
The partnership has purchased the old Grafton abattoir, too.
Mr Dosanjh preferred not to reveal any details regarding how the facility would be used, however, he said: “We’re expanding in the area and looking at also leasing sheds [and] building more sheds largely in the industrial area.
“We’re looking at bringing other companies to the town; we are here not just for blueberries, but other businesses.”
Mr Dosanjh said the Aquilini Investment Group “wants to be involved in Australia as part of a global operation in terms of blueberry supply”.
He said his Woolgoolga farm was not in any way associated with a recent Australian Border Force (ABF) and Australian Federal Police (AFP) initiative, Taskforce Ceduna, which discovered 34 Malaysians working illegally on a Woolgoolga blueberry farm, with 14 having unlawfully entered the country, while another 20 were working in breach of their visa conditions.
Mr Dosanjh said that he does employ overseas pickers among his staff; however, he said his company is “not involved in anything illegal”.
“Everything’s above board, we only employ legal people with working visas,” he said.
Work is underway at the Waterview Heights property.
“It’s already had a dam built on it and we are in the process of applying a water licence to the property, which we’ve purchased,” he said.
“We want a lot of involvement in the area; we want the plants to grow and to reinvest in other industries.
“We will be trying other crops, probably macadamia nuts and avocados; we just want to grow in this region.
“I live in Woolgoolga and am looking to move to Grafton. For me this is home. Hopefully I can build a big business.”