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More than 1,500 delegates attended the Hort Connections Gala Dinner in Melbourne

After a record-breaking conference, organisers reported that more than 1,500 delegates attended the Hort Connections Gala Dinner in Melbourne.

The main part of the night was the annual Horticulture Awards for Excellence. In total 83 growers, researchers, agronomists and other industry stakeholders that made up the list of finalists for the Horticulture Awards for Excellence across ten categories.

The main award, the Syngenta Grower of the Year was awarded to Victorian farm Rocky Lamattina & Sons. The business was recognised for its blend of traditional expertise and modern innovation yields consistent, high-quality products while embracing sustainability, which has earned them industry recognition.

This award adds to the Vegetable Farm of the Year award at the AUSVEG VIC Awards for Excellence, won earlier in the year.

Nutrano Produce Group, NSW, won the Hort Innovation Exporter of the Year Award. The company's farming footprint spans over 2,000ha of farms and facilities in Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales and the Northern Territory, with more than 300 dedicated employees – increasing to 600 during peak season. The vertically integrated grower's core categories are citrus, tropical fruits and blueberries. Nutrano supplies both the domestic and international markets, providing premium fresh produce with export certification to key international markets including Asia, the Middle East, Europe, New Zealand, USA, and Canada.

The other award winners were:

Corteva Agriscience Young Grower of the Year: Zeke Zalsman, Zaldeesh Farms – WA

Bayer Researcher of the Year: Doris Blaesing, RMCG – VIC

Butler Market Gardens Environmental & Sustainability: End Food Waste, Australian Banana Growers Council and Melons Australia – National

UPL Tech & Innovation: RapidAim – QLD

Muirs Community Stewardship Award: Veg Education – VIC

Boomaroo Nurseries Women in Horticulture: Bree Watson, Bundaberg Fruit & Vegetable Growers – QLD

VISY Industry Impact: Ian Layden (Gatton Smart Farm Ag Tech Showcase), QDAF – QLD

Seeka Marketer of the Year Award: Perfection Fresh – NSW

Trade Show Delicacies

As well as showcasing some of the latest products and innovations for the horticulture in Australia, the produce itself became a hit with delegates.

Hort Innovation had a number of inventive ways to attract delegates to some of the produce on offer.

One of those was dark chocolate that used Brussel sprouts and also white chocolate using carrots. From all reports, the vast majority of delegates who got to taste it, really enjoyed it. However, the product was specifically made for Hort Connections, and is not available on the market.

Hort Innovations also had a 'Melon Magic' menu which offered a range of alternative ways to consume melons (and bananas) including melon icy-pops, dried rockmelon seeds, and melon margaritas.

The industry body says it also part of fighting food waste, and finding an alternative for fruit and vegetables. That has become a key priority for the horticulture industry that not only benefits growers but also consumers.

There were also cooking displays from supermarket Coles and Perfection Fresh which cooked up fresh fruit and vegetables trying to inspire different recipes and ways to use the produce.

The main stand that contained fresh fruit and vegetables from across Australia donated all of the produce to charity Foodbank at the end of the conference to go to people in need.