Prime Minister Bill English started New Zealand's largest automated kiwifruit grading and sorting line at EastPack's Washer Rd site in Te Puke yesterday.
The new 14-lane Compac grader is the first fruit sorter in the industry that is larger than 10 lanes. It packs 100,000 trays per shift and provides EastPack with capacity to pack more than 40 million trays of fruit across the business.
The cost of the investment at the Washer Rd site is nearing $25 million and the new grader has created employment for an additional 300 seasonal workers, bringing the total staff at Washer Rd to about 600.
Mr English spoke about the work being done by the Government to negotiate trade deals with other governments and open up new markets, especially the work of Trade Minister Todd McClay, who was also at the opening.
"To come and see this kind of investment, seeing the skills and the depth and the culture of expertise that you have here gives us the confidence to spend more money, do more trips, take more time and argue more strongly with these other governments so that you can get your products in.
"It's this ongoing demonstration of excellence that gives us the confidence to back you on the world stage and offer you support wherever possible."
EastPack chief executive Hamish Simson said there had been huge developments at the Washer Rd site.
"Three years ago we were still in the grips of PSA and packed 25 million trays. This Washer Rd site was effectively mothballed with no graders and no packing taking place here at all."
Last season, EastPack packed 40 million trays.
"That growth in volume has allowed us to invest significantly in infrastructure and new technology, with EastPack spending over $40m this year following the $25m spend last year."
He described the new grader as a new chapter in leading-edge technology in packing efficiency for EastPack.
To handle the volume of fruit the grader utilises a dual-bin tip and infeed set-up and is effectively two graders joined together. The grader also utilises new Spectrim photo grading technology to improve efficiencies at its site and the accuracy of grading, with this season the first time the technology has been used on New Zealand kiwifruit.
The grader is also fitted with near infrared technology which looked inside the fruit and read the changes in wavelengths to test the brix and dry matter and ultimately the fruit's quality.
Earlier in the day Mr English was welcomed to Te Puke High School with a powhiri and mihi from kaumatua Tapua Te Amo and kuia Vervies Punohu McCausland before meeting some of the school's international students and student leaders and trying out the school's race car simulator.
International student Yolanda Xu, 14, from China said her high school back home was so large she had never even met the principal, never mind the country's leader.
"This is great and exciting," she said. Lyn Hartje, 15, from Germany said the visit had prompted a lot of discussion at her home stay, especially after former Prime Minister John Key's valedictory speech on Wednesday.