WORK has begun on a multimillion-dollar citrus investment in Sunraysia.
The development, at Red Cliffs, will allow Australian-owned citrus company Seven Fields to process three million cartons of fruit each year.
Seven Fields managing director Greg McMahon said he hoped to have the facility fully functioning by April.
"It's all about investing for the long-term and having faith in the future of the Sunraysia district," Mr McMahon said. "We have made a big investment in trees that will continue to bear for a long time."
Mr McMahon said the past year had not been easy for citrus growers, but said that citrus was now well placed to prosper.
"Some people think we're crazy because we're planting and developing, but if you're not going to do that, why bother?"
"Australia has a unique advantage in accessing Asian markets and we can produce a sweeter, better quality piece of fruit than our Asian neighbours. And I think there is still growth in the domestic market, particularly for mandarins.
"We're taking a risk - no doubt about it - but I am confident it will come back."
Mr McMahon said he wanted a facility to pack mandarins. The demand for easy-peel fruit, especially overseas, was increasing.
"We are the largest producer of Afourer mandarins in the Sunraysia area and we needed that critical mass to justify this investment," he said.
The facility was previously a table grape packing shed. It has now been extended, but will still process grapes.
The operation is currently hiring, and has about 40 jobs to fill.
Seven Fields farm operates on 450ha at Red Cliffs and produces 16,000 tonnes of citrus a year. It hopes to increase this to 20,000 in the next three-to-four years.
The new shed will enable Seven Fields to trace its citrus from the field through to the market box.
"We wanted to keep control of our production line," Mr McMahon said. "We like to control as much as we can, so we can deal with our customers more effectively."
Mr McMahon runs Seven Fields with his wife, brother and business partner, who are all first-generation citrus farmers.