Tomato plant hums again after upgrade

Tomato plant hums again after upgrade

Next will be changing area farmers' attitude

SAKON NAKHON : Doi Kham Food Products Co, the maker of processed foods and vegetables, has upgraded its 30-year-old plant in Sakon Nakhon to increase production capacity for tomato paste and juice by 70%.

Workers screen tomatoes before passing them to the production line. KRISSANA PARNSOONTHORN

The factory upgrade, which cost 450 million baht for advanced technology and machinery imported from Italy, is aimed at meeting heavy local demand. Located in Tao Ngoi district, the plant reopened late last month.

This third royal factory produces tomato paste as 70% of total output, with the rest for freeze-dried fruits and packed rice.

Doi Kham was founded by the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) and the Royal Project Foundation to process produce from royal projects and local farmers.

Pipatpong Israsena, Doi Kham's director and a special representative of the CPB, said daily production capacity for tomato paste is now 300-350 tonnes, up from 180-200 tonnes before the factory improvements.

"We've invested a lot to upgrade the factory here, as we're seeing higher demand for tomato paste and juice," he said.

"Moreover, we want to use this plant as a production model because our technology is the newest in the Northeast."

Doi Kham expects the reopened Tao Ngoi factory to help drive annual sales to 1 billion baht in the next two years, up from 670 million baht last year. The 18-rai plant accounts for 14% of overall sales.

The company normally sells tomato paste to other parties such as Thai Union Frozen Products, Sam Mae Krua, Pumpui and Roza, while offering tomato juice under its own Doi Kham label.

Mr Pipatpong said local demand for tomato paste is brisk and supply insufficient. Many leading canned tuna makers must import tomato paste from China.

Normally, tomatoes are a seasonal crop with a four-month harvest time each year. The Northeast's tomato belt spans provinces along the Mekong River such as Nong Khai, Sakon Nakhon, Nakhon Phanom and Mukdahan, down to Ubon Ratchathani, Surin, Buri Ram and Si Sa Ket.

The total tomato plantation area in the region amounts to 23,438 rai.

But the crop yield of Thai tomatoes remains low at 4.8 tonnes per rai compared with 12-15 tonnes in China.

Naressuk Chuerkonkang, head of farm development at the Tao Ngoi factory, said his team is trying to help local farmers increase their tomato crop yields so that the farmers can earn more and the supply of tomato paste will be enough to serve local demand.

Initiatives include growing stronger tomato sprouts, grafting tomatoes onto pea eggplants and building structures to hang tomatoes in order to prevent them from touching the ground.

"The most difficult part is to convince farmers and change their attitude," said Mr Naressuk.

"We do it first so that farmers will see the outcome and believe us. We believe if they adopt our measures, their crop yield will comfortably increase to 12 tonnes per rai."

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