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Hort Connections event hears how vegetable exporters collaborated more during pandemic

A Queensland vegetable grower has told the Growcom Horticulture Export Congress how producers came together at the start of the pandemic to help keep international supply running.

Speaking at the event, which is being run in conjunction with Hort Connections, National Sales Manager at Mulgowie Farming, Shane Quinn says the COVID-19 effects meant a new approach was needed.

“We knew in March that we had a problem,” he said. “We are normally very private and keep information to ourselves, but we realised we needed to share more in order to overcome what we knew was coming. We compete fiercely for the domestic market, but when it comes to export it is more 'Team Australia'. So we picked up the phone to our customers in New Zealand or Hong Kong, or wherever, and I remember asking if I should keep planting. Do they foresee that they still want produce?”

Mr Quinn says that the strong relationship that had previously been built meant that they still wanted to buy. So growers needed to share with peak industry body AUSVEG information such as volumes, so they could lobby for the International Freight Assistance Mechanism (IFAM).

“Then we had to ask that if we were going to have airfreight, how we actually get it there,” Mr Quinn said. “I can’t fill a container of beans, for example, because to get it fresh, it has to land three times a week. So I had the idea that we could have a mixed container - and we could land containers more often.”

This led to a pilot case study with Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries examining the effects of the different temperature requirements of the different vegetables. FreshPlaza will have more details on this study in coming weeks.

Earlier, Hort Connection delegates attended Trade Show Speaker Sessions, including Australian Food Cold Chain Council Chairman Mark Mitchell on the new training and code for fresh produce. While Benji Blevin from John Deere provided an insight into precision ag solutions in horticulture and tree crops.

Photo: Mark Mitchell from AFCCC.

The three-day event features more than 2000 delegates from across Australia, with the exception of those who have recently been in Victoria, who was unable to attend due to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. That meant two Agriculture Victoria presenters had to live stream their presentation.

John Lopresti shared the latest research on the integrated quality management of stone fruit and an R&D protocol to maximise the storage and shelf life of exported produce. Melanie Wishart from GS1 Australia spoke about the future of product identification for fresh produce.

The trade show was a hive of activity, with nearly two hundred exhibitors with products from fresh produce packaging, machinery, employment services, innovation and research companies to even government department agencies.

Label Press is a print manufacturing company that has been running for over 40 years. The company produces stickers and labels, among other things, for a range of fruit and vegetable produce.

Fresh Markets Australia, representing the wholesale markets from each state, provided a colourful display of fruit and vegetables.

Plenary sessions will be held on Wednesday before the event wraps up with the Gala Dinner and Awards night.