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Diverse hort sector needs single voice to realise growth

Tony Mahar, CEO of the National Farmers' Federation, considers the opportunities and challenges facing the horticultural sector, as well as the need for a single voice to progress the interests of Australian agriculture.

The world is going nuts for Australia’s fruit, vegetables and other ‘horticulture’ produce including you guessed it - nuts! Throw into this cut flowers, nursery and turf and the total horticulture sector is valued at $9 billion per annum – 18 per cent of the total value of Australian agriculture. The industry is set to be worth more than $10 billion by 2020.

Growth is being spurred on by increased demand from Asia and a general aspiration to eat healthier. All in all, right now the sector has a lot to feel optimistic about.

However with opportunities come challenges. Seizing the benefits of growth requires a united efforts from the sector on international issues like biosecurity and domestic issues including industrial relations and labour hire.

And with such a fragmented and diverse sector – think turf to tomatoes to trees - this is no small feat!  The actual number of representative groups in the horticulture sector is the subject of considerable debate but suffice to say it’s a busy space. There are at least 40 separate entities all seeking to represent and advocate on behalf of their respective growers.    

We are acutely aware of the need for a coordinated and single voice...
Tony Mahar, CEO, National Farmers' Federation

The challenge with such expansive industries and opportunities is establishing a strong clear voice and message. To help achieve a united front the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has unashamedly been seeking to improve and strengthen our engagement and collaboration with the horticulture industry.

We are acutely aware of the need for a coordinated and single voice to progress the interests of Australian agriculture including the huge potential and possibilities available in the horticulture industry. Further to that we are even more aware of the risks of a fragmented and disjointed approach and what a negative impact this can have on policy and advocacy.

In this vein, recently NFF has been working with our existing horticulture membership including Dried Fruits Australia, Summerfruit Australia , state farming organisations and also with organisations that are not currently members like GrowCom, Ausveg and the Produce Marketing Authority (PMA).

As part of this initiative last week in Adelaide our President Fiona Simson and I attended the Hort Connections Conference, the sector’s premier annual event. It was a first in that the Fresh Markets Authority and the Central Markets Authority had come together with Ausveg and the PMA to jointly host the conference. This in itself was a noteworthy development.

Over two days almost 2000 growers, merchants and stakeholders heard about the opportunities including new markets as well as the challenges such as the need to lower production costs, traceability, environmental impacts, labour and social issues. Overall there was a feeling that the industry needed to work more constructively and cohesively.

The NFF... has reiterated the value and need for a coordinated approach between our respective organisations.
Tony Mahar, CEO, National Farmers' Federation

The NFF took the opportunity to provide an overview of the work we have done on the horticulture award. NFF Legal and Workplace Relations Policy Officer, Kimberly Pearsall provided an excellent insight into the negotiations for a more relevant and flexible arrangement.

This together with the broader work on industrial relations, labour market availability and awards has been targeted, and we think hugely successful.

The NFF has built up relationships and trust and importantly the work has reiterated the value and need for a coordinated approach between our respective organisations. 

The NFF looks forward to being part of the journey to bring the sector closer for the shared mutual interest of a strong and growing horticulture industry.

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    NFF have a critical role in bridging across farmer groups, and has the national footprint necessary to link to the input and supply chains.

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