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$5.3 million investment will double irradiation capacity at the Steritech facility in Melbourne

Hort Connections 2024: Ag Minister makes funding announcements to boost export and trade

The Federal Agriculture Minister has used Hort Connections 2024 to make some key funding announcements for the fresh produce industry. Senator Murray Watt unveiled joint funding with the Victorian Government for the state's fruit and vegetable sector, which will benefit from up to $5.3 million to boost fruit fly defences and safeguard international trade opportunities.

The investment will double the irradiation capacity at the Steritech irradiation facility in Melbourne's north, delivering increased dual X-ray irradiator systems to kill off fruit-spoiling insects, larvae, and bacteria.

"Irradiation is vital for treating produce in fruit fly-affected areas so that our fruit remains export-ready for overseas markets," Senator Watt told delegates. "This will expand our capacity, which means more Aussie fruit will reach more consumers around the world while delivering trade security to our growers and the rest of the supply chain. The existing facility services over 80 fresh produce crops that are exported to markets such as New Zealand and Vietnam. We are also continuing to expand fumigation chambers, cold rooms and other post-harvest treatment infrastructure at key logistic centres for better access to international markets. Put simply, this investment will lift the international competitiveness of our produce."

The Minister also revealed that current forecasts from ABARES indicate that Australia is set to produce "historic results" of over $17.4 billion in horticulture over the next financial year – a record high. Horticulture exports are set to surge 11 per cent over this period to hit $4billion, with output and exports set to keep growing even further until at least the end of the decade.

In addition to the irradiation funding, Mr Watt announced as part of the Government's broader $12.3 million commitment to support regional agricultural trade events, $1.1million will be targeted specifically at horticulture.

That includes $475,000 for Hort Innovation to build connections between horticulture industries in Australia and Japan, through visits, forums and networking events that showcase Australia's horticulture sector and open up market access opportunities. Also, $625,000 is for the National Farmers' Federation to deliver a roadshow that will exhibit Australian horticulture at existing and planned events across the country.

"These types of events create major opportunities to growers and the whole hort supply chain while supporting regional economies as well," Mr Watt said.

Meanwhile, delegates also heard from a State of the Industry panel, which explored some of the features of the 2024 IFPA Future Trends Report. One of the speakers was John Said from Fresh Select who gave a grower's perspective on why it was important to diversify to get the most out of the crops.

Fresh Select is one of the largest lettuce and brassica farmers in Australia, producing vegetables, such as broccoli, baby broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, Brussels sprouts, iceberg, cos lettuce and hydroponic lettuce, in both open field and protected cropping sites across Australia.

Mr Said added that due to the fact that so much of his crops were left in the field due to quality, his company launched Nutri-V, which turns vegetables into nutrient-dense, fibre-rich and protein-fueled vegetable powders.

"I don't believe we have a level playing field," he said. "I think Australians are going to struggle to compete against the world on current practices unless we embrace change. We need to come up with technology that enables us to reduce labour costs and reduce our input costs. Our competitors around the world are subsidised in some form or another, which is quite frightening. Also, out of all that, we need to increase our consumption."

Other presentations on the final day included Rebalancing the Supplier-Retailer Relationship with a Grocery Code of Conduct, Sustainability in Fresh Produce, How Suppliers can Eliminate Waste and Emissions in the Produce Supply Chain and has Australia Reached the Crest of its Export Potential.

Also, five awards were handed out, including Environmental and Sustainability, Industry Impact, Tech and Innovation, Community Stewardship and Researcher of the Year.

Hort Connections 2024 came to a close with the Gala Dinner and After Party.