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BECKIE WILSON
beckie.wilson@age.co.nz

A long-standing Wairarapa seed processing plant will shut in December with its directors blaming collateral damage from the lengthy region-wide pea growing ban for its demise.

The directors of Masterton Vegetable Seed Ltd, Percy and Norma McFadzean, announced the closure to their customers via email last Friday.

Federated Farmers national arable chairwoman, Primary Industries Ministry arable industry representative and Gladstone cropping farmer Karen Williams said the closure of the company was “gut-wrenching”.

The McFadzeans said in their email: “We have tried to find ways to keep the plant open since the arrival of pea weevil, but we now have also to battle the low volumes of seeds growing in the region as well as an overall increase in operation cost.

“We appreciate your loyalty and support for the past 10 years since we started as Masterton Vegetable Seeds Ltd and for the more than 60 years this plant has been in Wairarapa.”

The plant, on Akura Rd, specialised in the processing of smaller seeds.

They thanked their customers for their support and said the plant would close on December 7.

Percy McFadzean, a Masterton businessman, told the Times-Age he did not want to comment further on the closure, or disclose the number of staff affected.

The two-year pea growing ban was enforced in July 2016 and was extended for another two years in May.

Peas were one of the most popular crops grown in the region before the ban.

The region’s crop farmers who record a loss from the growing ban are eligible for compensation, but it is understood associated businesses, such as the plant, are not.

Before the ban was set in place in 2016, there were negotiations with the industry around Wairarapa growers securing alternative growing contracts during the pea growing ban, Williams said.

There had been a “massive drop off” in contracts for growers while they were taking the hit for the industry.

“Very little has been offered and [the closure] was a consequence.”

The closure could impact the processing of this season’s crops, but Williams expressed concern about what would happen when the ban was lifted and there was an influx in produce for processing.

Growers and the industry had been searching for alternative high-value crops that could be grown in the region in the interim, and the closure would affect that, she said.

Williams said she would have to consider transporting crops out of the region for processing.

Masterton’s Seeds and Cereals owner Bruce Tocher said the closure was a shame for the region and its growers.

“It’s indicative of what’s going on and the downturn in the industry.

“It’s very hard for growers at the moment – the costs they are incurring are pretty out there,” he said.

Wairarapa MP Alastair Scott said it was sad for the owners.

“[Percy] knew that when pea weevil came, it would be a risk to his business.

“I assume he had tried to adapt to the conditions and he has come to a logical conclusion the processing unit isn’t sustainable.”

Wairarapa Chamber of Commerce general manager Catherine Rossiter-Stead said the region was building an image around high-valued food products and the plant could have been part of that.

“This is a business that is directly employing local people and is putting money directly into the economy,” she said.

“We probably need to look at being more collaborative and helping businesses like these so that they can continue operating.”

Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson said the closure of any business employing staff was not great news.