Celebrating the achievements of the Australian horticulture industry over one of the most challenging and disruptive periods will be a major focus of Hort Connections which officially gets underway Tuesday, according to the organisers.
"We are just so excited to be able to run the event again," AUSVEG National Marketing Manager Nathan McIntyre said. "It is the first time we have been able to do something in two years, so we are just keen to get everyone together and have a bit of a celebration. There have been a lot of different things over the past 2-3 years, whether it is fires, floods, droughts, the pandemic - there is a lot of issues the industry has faced. I think most of the industry has had a good period from a seasonality perspective; I think the prospects are looking quite good for the upcoming 12 months and we'd like to kick start things getting back to normal at Hort Connections."
Mr McIntyre says he hopes that the conference, which FreshPlaza is attending, provides delegates with practical information that they can take away and implement in their own businesses, right across the supply chain.
"For example, one of the key areas is building mental resilience and fitness," he said. "That will be featured in a plenary session on Wednesday and we have an expert in that space, Adele Spurgin. She will be talking to the audience about how to be proactive, as most of the time people are reactive. So, I am looking forward to what she can bring to the table to help producers. Apart from that, we will be talking about things like labour, developments in ag-tech, innovation and we have seen a couple of interesting years for horticulture in particular. Whether it be weather, disasters or workforce issues they have had a significant impact on the industry, and futureproof as best we can."
Photo: setting up for the Hort Connections Trade Show
While the event is back up and running after being postponed last year at the height of the pandemic, international delegates, and those from Victoria will not be able to attend due to the Queensland and Federal Government's border restrictions.
"If we were to have had the Victorians who registered to attend, we would have had around 2,500 attendees, and as it stands, we will still have over 2,000 people, which is fantastic," Mr McIntyre said. "That takes us back to not far away to where we were pre-COVID. So, the support of growers and the supply chain has been massive and it's great that they are so keen to get back into this type of event and getting together.
The popular State of the Industry panel discussion will return, as well as key speakers from Hort Innovation, CSIRO, Export Council of Australia, Centre for Supply Chain & Logistics, some of Australia's leading fresh produce companies and state government departments, to bring attendees up with the latest horticulture developments.
While the Trade Show will feature companies from right across the country.
"We were shaping up to have the largest trade show that we would have had to date for any Hort Connections," Mr McIntyre said. "The Victoria situation has knocked that down a little bit, but the support that we have had is a strong indicator that people are ready to get back to some sort of 'new normal'."
In addition to the two days of the plenary session and the trade show, there are a number of additional activities on the program. Some delegates went on a tour to the Lockyer Valley on Monday, while other fruit and vegetable industry bodies took the chance to have their own workshops. Growcom is hosting an export congress and dinner on Tuesday night, with the big Gala Dinner on Wednesday night featuring 10 categories.