By Growcom CEO Stephen Barnard
Ahead of the state election last year Minister Furner committed to quarterly meetings with the Queensland Horticulture Council (QHC) to set a new agenda for the industry, should the Palaszczuk Government be returned and he be reappointed to the portfolio.
And so this week all the key players assembled in Brisbane for our inaugural quarterly meeting.
The QHC is chaired by Far North Queensland Growers President Joe Moro, and consists of representatives from Growcom and each of the major regional grower groups.
The Minister was accompanied by his new Director-General Bob Gee, senior staff and public servants including representatives from Queensland Health.
Top of the agenda was the ongoing shortage of seasonal labour. Representatives from the Granite Belt spoke to a tough season about to come to a close, while those from Gayndah and Bowen foreshadowed a difficult harvest and losses ahead for citrus and winter vegetables respectively.
Just as some regions reported success in attracting more locals into seasonal work, a shortage in workers statewide remained, and issues with the convoluted processes in recruiting seasonal labour from overseas and with the shortage of suitable accommodation in regional centres were raised.
QHC members conveyed to the Minister their shared view that the option of recruiting workers from Pacific Islands and completing quarantine either on-farm or at regional facilities remained out of reach to the average grower.
The Minister also took note of concerns about poor water security through the remainder of the year on the Granite Belt, in the Lockyer Valley and through the Bundaberg irrigation scheme.
The mental health of growers and their staff through these challenging times was also a recurring theme, as were requests for more assistance in the management of Fall Armyworm.
Despite all the issues we currently face, industry leaders were as one with the Minister in their optimism for the future of Queensland horticulture, and the need right now to be looking beyond COVID-19 and putting in place those things we need to continue growing our industry.
This is what we hope is a new agenda for horticulture in Queensland and a conversation to be continued at our next quarterly meeting.
For his part, the Minister left QHC members in no doubt about his passion for the horticulture sector and his desire to see our industry act as the cornerstone of economic recovery from COVID-19 in regional Queensland.