The 2020/21 financial year was a challenging one throughout the world and in particular for the horticulture sector here in Queensland. I am very proud of the ingenuity and resilience shown by the sector in general and by our growers who have worked tirelessly to deliver quality produce to consumers in Australia in the face of unprecedented challenges. Ongoing labour supply shortages and international/domestic border closures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have made growers lives both stressful and financially difficult.

I am glad that Growcom has been able to provide support to the sector generally and growers in particular. I am particularly proud of the Growcom team and the way that they have supported growers during these difficult times. Whilst there appears to be some light at the end of the tunnel, the year ahead will continue to be challenging but rest assured, Growcom and its team will be there to support our grower members.

The company recorded a financial loss of $212,000 for the financial year ended 30 June 2021. Whilst this result is disappointing, the once-off costs associated with responding to the needs of the sector and in supporting our grower members during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis was something that was necessary and has been widely appreciated by our members. Additional costs to restructure and improve the Growcom business model, systems, and procedures to create sustainable profitability and quality service levels into the future were also incurred. This significant investment was foreshadowed last year at the Annual General Meeting and will provide substantial savings and efficiencies for Growcom as we deliver services to our grower members into the future.

I would like to assure members that the Board is keenly attuned to the operational efficiency and Growcom’s ongoing financial effectiveness. Growcom’s interim results to date and our financial forecast for this coming financial year are bright, and I am very optimistic of a profitable financial performance for the year ahead and into the future. 

Moving forward, Growcom has been and will continue implementing a more commercial focus to its operations and service provision. This will serve to ensure our long-term sustainability and ongoing ability to provide effective targeted policy and advocacy on behalf of the industry, informative advice, awareness and profile of the sector as well as workplace and employment relations support to grower members, as our base level service offering to you as a minimum.

Since arriving in October last year, our new Chief Executive Office Stephen Barnard and the whole Growcom team have been focusing on ensuring the needs of our members are met, through optimising the structural and operational needs of the Growcom business. Effective grower engagement and the delivery of valued and relevant services to members has been and continues to be our number one priority, particularly during the current challenging times.

On a policy front, labour issues brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic continued to dominate the headlines this year. Despite the many positive interventions put in place by both State and Federal Governments, many growers continue to have issues accessing the workforce they require.

In December last year Growcom with the support of the National Farmers’ Federation Horticulture Council launched the National Lost Crop Register to quantify the true cost to industry and the national economy from a lack of seasonal workers available to harvest fresh fruits and vegetables. This initiative has been hugely successful in focusing media and political attention on our seasonal labour shortage. To the end of June 2021, 94 growers from all states of Australia had reported in excess of $58 million in lost crops.

Growcom has and continues to work very closely with the Queensland Government to ensure the right settings are in place to enable business continuity.

Growcom was vocal in the lead up to the 2020 State Election presenting all sides of politics with a comprehensive roadmap for the industry – A Green Spring in Queensland – developed with the Queensland Horticulture Council. The industry roadmap included requests for the next Queensland Government to commit to improved water and energy affordability, and to invest in drought and climate initiatives, sustainability, innovation, skills and training, biosecurity, transport, and export market development.

The significance of this and Growcom’s pro-active and dynamic role in leading the sector over the last 12 months has led to Growcom being appointed to lead the vert important Future Fields initiative for the horticulture sector in Queensland. This initiative, on behalf of the fresh produce sector, was recently launched and has been charged with bringing key stakeholders along the supply chain together and guiding the development of the horticulture sectors long term strategic plan. We expect that this initiative will engage with growers and stakeholders from across the state and will be completed by the end of the 2021/22 financial year.

During the year, Growcom has engaged with all levels of government and presented the views and interests of our members on a wide range of issues. Some higher profile examples include making submissions to official reviews and parliamentary inquiries into agricultural chemical regulation, farm design standards in Great Barrier Reef catchments, and the operation of perishable goods markets.

As a business Growcom continues to deliver a range of practical and valued programs and services to Queensland horticulture growers.

In August 2020, Growcom’s highly regarded Workplace Essentials Seminar series returned to aid agricultural businesses reduce risks and increase efficiency and compliance. Funded by the Queensland Government, and supported by Sunsuper, MADEC and the Queensland Agriculture Workforce Network (QAWN), the 2020 Workplace Essentials series focused on COVID-19 workplace health and safety obligations, workforce management, mental health and avoiding financial stress.

The horticulture industry has also continued to demonstrate its commitment to best practice farming with over 20 growers now certified through Growcom’s Hort360 Reef Certification program and a further 80+ on the pathway to certification. Launched in August 2020, Hort360 Reef Certification is a key component of the Hort360 Great Barrier Reef (Hort360 GBR) Best Management Practice (BMP) program, funded through the Queensland Government’s Reef Water Quality Program. Through the voluntary uptake of Hort360 Reef Certification, industry can demonstrate stewardship towards protecting the Great Barrier Reef whilst reaping the benefits of improved practices and profitability. Growcom will continue our commitment to assisting the industry to demonstrate stewardship for the Great Barrier Reef wetland, coastal and marine ecosystems.

In another positive for the industry, the Federal Government announced ongoing support over the next four years to extend and fast track the uptake of Growcom’s Fair Farms program. Fair Farms is the Australian-made training and certification program designed to help farmers in the horticultural sector engage in fair and ethical work practices. It provides tools and advice for growers to support employment best-practice standards, in a straightforward, efficient, and auditable process that farmers can use to demonstrate they meet appropriate ethical employment standards and treat workers fairly. 

Since June 2020 the program has experienced a significant increase in registered participants, and those who had completed their online self-assessments had more than quadrupled ahead of the formal auditing process. Strong uptake of the program indicates growing intent along the supply chain to demonstrate fair and equitable work practices and eradicate exploitation.

In March this year Growcom unveiled our new look agvet chemical database, Infopest. Featuring all chemicals registered and approved by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), Infopest is a one-stop shop of accurate, up-to-date information for the effective control of weeds, pests, and diseases in a wide range of crops and livestock. Growcom worked with leading horticultural farm management software company and Growcom corporate member, Apunga over the past year to redevelop the product which boasts improved functionality, a clean, modern look and a suite of new features.

Growcom in June brought the Queensland horticulture industry together to celebrate the industry’s export achievements at the inaugural Queensland Horticulture Export Congress and Awards Dinner. Held in conjunction with the industry’s national conference Hort Connections in Brisbane, the Export Congress provided Queensland’s fruit and vegetable exporters an opportunity to come together for an update on Queensland’s horticultural trade performance during COVID, understand freight and logistics challenges exporters were facing, and hear experiences from exporting Queensland growers on how they have dealt with the disrupted trading environment. The Dinner that followed showcased the export talent our industry has fostered. Congratulations to all our nominees but most notably our Exporter of the Year – Moffatt Fresh Produce and New Exporter Award recipient – Green Valley Fingerlimes.

Finally, at this year’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) we formally say goodbye to three of our long-standing Directors – Tim Carnell, Les Williams, and Colin Jeacocke.

Earlier this year Tim tendered his resignation from the Board. On behalf of the Board and staff I would like to extend my thanks to Tim for his dedication and commitment to the company and wish him all the best.

Les Williams and Colin Jeacocke will also retire at this year’s AGM having served their maximum terms of eight years. Les and Colin have both worked hard for the industry helping to guide Growcom through some very challenging times. I would also like to extend a special thanks to Les for his leadership during his time as Chairman of the Board (2016 – 2019). Tim, Les and Colin’s passion, industry knowledge and camaraderie will be missed.

Thank you to all our grower and corporate members for your continued support. I confirm our ongoing commitment to working with you and in your best interests in the year ahead.