By Growcom CEO Stephen Barnard
Last week in this column we reviewed the year just gone and took note of the several challenges that have come our way in different shapes and sizes this past year.
We have counted the last summer of bushfires, an ongoing drought, the still unfolding global COVID-19 pandemic, and the detection of both Fall armyworm and Serpentine leafminer as our own collection of disasters.
There have been, and will continue to be many flow on effects. As a result of our efforts to limit the impact of COVID-19 on human health, we’ve caused damage elsewhere. Travel restrictions mean right now we are struggling to tap into an adequate supply of seasonal labour, and our export options are reduced.
But our industry is not unaccustomed to adversity. Most growers and supply chain colleagues have seen hard times, and bounced back. We’re resilient and have a great deal to be optimistic about going into 2021.
Firstly, people next year will still need to eat. Our produce will remain in demand. Horticulture will likely prove the cornerstone of an agriculture led recovery of the Queensland economy.
We are the second largest and fastest growing agricultural sector in Queensland. We are incredibly efficient at turning energy, water and sunlight into nutritious produce, employment opportunities, and increasing regional wealth.
On the flipside of each of our obstacles lies opportunity.
Next year we will be in a race to diversify our export markets and develop new transport solutions to reduce our reliance on airfreight.
The overreliance on backpacker labour, that industry has long been warning governments about, has now been brought into sharp focus. Next year we will argue for the introduction of a dedicated harvest visa designed to create a stable, reliable and productive pool of labour.
COVID-19 has accelerated changes in consumer preference toward buying online, home delivery, and for locally sourced produce. Next year we will continue to see growers and others along the fresh produce supply chain pivot their operations to meet this growing demand.
In these and many other ways, opportunities will present themselves. Just like when a big tree falls in a rainforest, the disruption caused by COVID-19 will create space for new players and new ideas to emerge and grow into.
Growcom will be with growers and the wider industry next year every step of the way, making sure we collectively capitalise on each opportunity that arises.
We will continue to advance with the returned Palaszczuk Government the development of a dedicated industry strategy with a set of actions, accountabilities and resources to ensure we achieve our potential.