It?s show time . . . Wal Gately and other banana growers prepare to head into yesterday?s crisis talks.
It?s show time . . . Wal Gately and other banana growers prepare to head into yesterday?s crisis talks.

Wholesaler ?confident? but owes $5 million

By CRAIG McTEAR

GREG King reckons Plantation Fresh will be back in business.

That's despite his Coffs Harbour wholesale fruit and vegetable company owing almost $5 million and being put in the hands of administrators.

"We do have a rescue package at hand, which we're quite confident of being able to do," Mr King said after yesterday's crisis meeting with administrator Ozem Kassem and 30 or more creditors and former staff.

"We should have a result in a couple of weeks and be back in business. I've committed to the growers that once we're back and going, there'll be an initial payment up front."

Mr King's buoyant outlook was in stark contrast to the gloomy picture painted by banana growers like Wal Gately.

Farmers and other unsecured creditors are owed about $2 million.

"It looks very doubtful if we will get paid," Mr Gately, who is owed $36,000, said.

"Hopefully he (Mr King) can get re-financed and trade out of trouble and pay us off a little at time."

Before heading into the talks, Mr Gately revealed he was one of up to 15 local banana growers left badly out of pocket by the business collapse. They haven't seen any money from Plantation Fresh since March 12.

One grower is believed to be owed as much as $200,000.

"We're disappointed by the way we've been treated. We were told everything was okay and that our money would turn up," Mr Gately said. "This has come as a total surprise. It rolled me. It's buggered up my farm account.

"But I'm more fortunate than others. At least I've had fruit sent to market in Melbourne, which returned me good money."

Mr Gately said the situation came to a head last Thursday when Mr King told growers he had appointed an administrator and that he had three weeks to refinance the business or find another partner.

Ozem Kassem, from insolvency specialists Bentleys MRI, said yesterday's meeting had been positive.

"We are working with the director of the company (Mr King) to put together a rescue package, which involves finding a partner or investing to restart the business again," Mr Kassem said.

Creditors are due to consider the rescue package on June 12.

If they're not happy with it, they can have the company wound up.



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