Qld developer John Wagner wants to talk to Griffith on fresh food trade

The multi-millionaire Queensland developer pioneering the new “golden fruit” market of flying fresh produce to Asia has told Area News he would love to explore partnership opportunities with the Griffith region.

In 2013, John Wagner became the first person in nearly half a century to build a major airport in Australia. Mr Wagner now uses his West Wellcamp Airport, in Toowoomba, to fly fresh food and meat from the Darling Downs to China.

“Our airport puts us just 12 hours away from the majority of the world’s population,” Mr Wagner said.

Dr Alvin Lee, a trade expert from Deakin University, says that flying fresh produce to China and India can effectively turns fruit into gold, as millions of wealthy consumers there will pay an “incredible” price to get high quality produce so much faster than shipped goods.  

Sensing the opportunity, Edward River council (Deniliquin) reached out to Mr Wagner about the potential of flying their Riverina produce to Asia via Toowoomba. The council are currently lobbying for funds to boost the capacity of their local airport to enable it to run dedicated freight services.

“We would love to talk to Griffith and others in the Riverina,” Mr Wagner said.

When asked about the barriers to such ventures – fruit fly regulation, Chinese tariffs, slow supply chains and inadequate infrastructure – his response was blunt. 

“The biggest barrier we face is people’s mindset, an inability to think outside the square. All those other barriers are there, but you work through them until you get what you want.”

Griffith Business Chamber president Paul Pierotti says he has urged Mayor John Dal Broi to join him on a delegation to Toowoomba to explore partnership opportunities.  

number of farmers and entrepreneurs in the MIA have told Area News they see enormous potential in such ventures, and are frustrated that more isn’t being done to promote and  market what this region has to offer. 

Tallimba farmer Meg Hardie said,  “powerful interests in Australia have seemingly worked together to drive down prices of farm produce further and further, so primary producers have to search for an actual profit further afield”.

Griffith building certifier and consultant Katie Lucantonio says she can’t understand why the MIA – which produces the best quality food in Australia – isn’t as well-known internationally as the Hunter and Barossa Valley. 

John Wagner is the chair of his family business Wagners, a construction materials and mining services business employing over 1000 staff across five countries.

The Wagner family were ranked No.14 on the Business Review Weekly (BRW) rich families list 2015, with an estimated wealth of more than $950 million.