By Growcom CEO Stephen Barnard

Last week the Australian pineapple industry came together in Bundaberg to share knowledge and celebrate at the annual Pineapple Field Days and Gala Dinner.

While the pineapple industry, like horticulture generally, is dealing with its fair share of challenges right now, there is a strong sense of cohesion between growers and a shared commitment to staying at the cutting edge of technology and consumer trends.

The Honourable Penelope Wensley AC, former diplomat, Governor of Queensland and now the National Soils Advocate, opened the Field Days recognising how alive growers are to their responsibilities as stewards of the natural environment.

Ms Wensley later formally handed John and Linda Steemson of Littabella Pines at Yandaran their Reef Certification gained through Hort360, the first pineapple growers to have their farm practices certified as consistent with improving water quality in Great Barrier Reef catchments.

Attracting keen interest were demonstrations of new tools and technologies, spray rigs and drones, to improve the accuracy and efficiency of fertiliser and herbicide applications. Also presentations from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries of new ideas for limiting erosion.

The farm trials on show around Bundaberg were a result of deliberation by the Pineapple Environmental Sustainability Team, otherwise known as PEST. A model example of collaboration between growers, private enterprise, Growcom and key government agencies including Queensland departments of agriculture and environment, PEST ensures the finite funds available for R&D are invested to maximise gains for growers and avoid duplication.

Pineapple growers are also leading the rest of horticulture in their efforts to assure consumers that their workers are not getting the rough end, with 10 growers already on the pathway to proving their ethical employment practices by becoming Fair Farms certified.

At the Gala Dinner young growers Ben Scurr and Courtney Thies of Pinata Farms at Mareeba who jointly received the Rudy Wassman Award, recognising their achievements as the next-generation of growers.

And Stephen Pace of Pace Farming at Rollingstone, outgoing Australian Pineapple chair after nearly nine years in the seat, was a popular and worthy recipient of the Col Scott Award for an outstanding contribution to the pineapple industry.

Stephen has been an excellent and universally respected leader of the industry, keeping his ear ever close to the ground, he has moved the industry forward with a mix of care, courage, humility and a desire to seek consensus and see all growers succeed.      

He hands the reins and chair over to Sam Pike of Sandy Creek Pineapple Co at Glass House Mountains, who will without doubt and in his own way keep the pineapple industry at the cutting edge.