Exporting success: businesses win gongs

TWO Leeton businesses �- one that is well known and another that is continuing to develop -� have been awarded top honours at this week's Australian Export Awards.

SunRice was named the country's best regional exporter, while Walnuts Australia, which is experiencing big growth at its property just outside of Leeton, was honoured with the emerging exporter award.

The national awards were held in Canberra on Tuesday evening and recognised excellence in exporting.

SunRice and Walnuts Australia competed against other award-winning companies from across the country.

The SunRice award followed being named the NSW Regional Exporter of the Year in October.

SunRice chairman Gerry Lawson said the company had experienced a big turnaround after years in drought.

"The SunRice story began in the Riverina and we were honoured to represent regional NSW at a national level at the awards," he said.

"We are delighted to have won the Australian Regional Exporter Award and to have our company and our industry recognised in this way.

"The recovery of the Australian rice industry in 2011-12 has been an incredible achievement for our growers, our shareholders and our company."

This year's award judges were impressed with SunRice's story of survival during decades of drought, saying the company was an excellent case study of how regional Australia's expertise can take on the world.

The judges also noted the company has demonstrated solid financials, a clear and effective market strategy, demonstrated jobs growth, new product innovation and a green focus.

Ricegrowers' Association of Australia president Les Gordon said the award was an "outstanding result".

"We are absolutely delighted with this award and understand that it has been achieved because of hard work, commitment to the industry and determination from everyone in the company," he said.

In being given the emerging exporter award, Walnuts Australia specifically mentioned its Leeton connection.

Walnuts Australia is the country's largest grower, processor and exporter of walnuts.

Award judges commended the company for its long-term commitment to large volume production and for taking the initiative to fill a market gap caused by counter-seasonality.

The judges observed while the technology applied to fresh produce may not be easy to articulate, the company has demonstrated a long-term view to ensure marketplace suitability and to address emerging consumer issues.

The business believes the award recognises the hard work of the Walnuts Australia team, with plans in the wings to expand in Leeton.

The company plans to increase its orchard estate on Colinroobie Road, as well as building a walnut cracking facility.

Webster Limited general manager John Hosken said the cracking plant would be "world class".

(It will) complement Walnuts Australia's orchard estate, which is comparable to any in the world in terms of scale and efficiency," he said.

"Winning a national export award provides our company with further promotional leverage as we continue our export and domestic sales growth."