Protected Cropping Australia (PCA) says while the horticulture industry has been through a challenging period with the COVID-19 pandemic, extreme weather events and market disruptions in recent times, there are some exciting times ahead.
The organisation's bi-annual conference was launched today at Coffs Harbour, with around 450 delegates expected to attend over the four days, with 40 attending virtually. The program includes grower workshops, plenary sessions and farm tours - as well as a conference dinner and industry awards.
Photo: Chair Matt Plunkett speaking at the Opening Ceremony of PCA 2022 Conference
"We are delighted to be in a regional area, where there is significant growth and expansion in the industry," PCA Chair Matthew Plunkett said. "We have industry members from fertiliser companies, climate control companies and technical areas such as lighting and irrigation support products. They will be showcasing here. The industry is estimated to be growing around 5-7 per cent in Australia. That's phenomenal growth across berries, and other fruit and vegetables, the GreenLife industries and amenity horticulture. Also some of those emerging tree crops including avocados, cherries and mangoes. There is a lot of interest in the sector, including our Medicinal Cannabis stream, which is also growing in interest."
He added that with a busy time for all areas of the industry, there was no shortage of content to choose from for the conference, across a number of thematic areas. One of the main areas will be presenting new research and innovation, with a focus on work from students who contribute a lot to the industry.
"We are very proud to support our students and have a whole session looking at their work," he said. "It is a pleasure and honour to lead an industry so passionate about the growth and development, and sustainability of our industry. But in addition to our students there is a lot more innovation across the sector and we have a 2030 strategy, and the PCA has advocated very strongly to the Australian Government and Hort Innovation around targeted R&D. One of those is a significant mapping project, so in 18 months time we will have a verifiable map of the size of protected cropping industry. This is exciting given the amount of growth in some of the key sectors."
Protected Cropping Australia is the peak industry body for greenhouse and hydroponic growers in Australia, and as well as being presentations from industry and research and development (R&D) experts, there is a tradeshow featuring around 60 exhibitors.
Mr Plunkett also says the conference will have sessions addressing the major issue of labour, which has affected mostly every agricultural producer in the country in some way. It comes after the Federal Government closed international borders at the start of the pandemic, only opening them in February this year. There have also been State Government border closures restricting movement over the past 24 months.
"Our thoughts go out to all of the growers, as it has been such a tough time," he said. "There is no silver bullet solution, unfortunately. The issue with the borders, now that things are opening up, is making it easier, but it still is an enormous issue for growers. As an organisation, we are trying to advocate and do what we can, and also help with the messaging from other peak bodies, like the National Farmers' Federation Horticulture Council and AUSVEG around the major protected cropping growing areas in Australia. We will continue advocating things like the Ag Visa and other options for farmers, such as the Pacific Labour Scheme, which is a wonderful story about how it's helping people in developing countries lift their standard of living and help their families."
The event, which is supported by the NSW Government, will ramp up tomorrow with the two-day speaker sessions and wrap up with the farm tours on Thursday to berry and vegetable producers in the region.