By Growcom CEO Stephen Barnard

This week Brisbane plays host to Hort Connections, the largest annual gathering of the Australian horticulture industry, where there’ll be plenty of conversations about the future of the industry.

Doubtless there’ll be talk of a number of businesses in horticulture, big and small, said to be doing it tough right now, caught in a pinch between rising labour costs and poor prices.

At some stage these conversations will inevitably come around to what various levels of government could have and should be doing to address the issues we’re facing.

For all the talk early on about agriculture, and horticulture in particular, acting as an industry of strength and powering our economic recovery from a COVID-19 recession, growers have seen little support in fulfilling this potential.

Since the pandemic began the Australian Government has identified for additional assistance severely impacted regions and sectors through the $1 billion COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Fund, including tourism, aviation and the arts.

While growers will acknowledge this support has included the International Freight Assistance Mechanism, this has been of benefit to a small minority of the sector who export. 

On behalf of horticulture, we will be asking the Australian Government to give consideration to developing a specific and targeted assistance package for horticulture, which brings together the existing Australian Government programs of support relevant to our industry, with the additional support that will be required to realise our potential.

In response to the latest Melbourne lockdown the Prime Minister together with Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud announced a temporary COVID Disaster Payment for workers.

So Federal Ministers could be thinking about similar Disaster Payments to growers currently in a pinch as a short term measure within a targeted assistance package for horticulture.

If the Victorian Government lockdown of their capital city meets the definition of disaster for Melbourne workers, then the lockdown of Australian borders by the Federal Government and the exodus of our majority backpacker workforce must mean horticultural businesses meet the same test.