A green spring in Queensland

The policy platform of the horticulture industry for the 2020 Queensland election

Joe-Moro-Board

Joe Moro
Queensland Horticulture Council Chair

The damage caused by COVID-19 to the Queensland horticulture industry and our supply chain partners has been severe. Domestically we lost much of our food service market almost overnight as restaurants and cafes closed and conferences and cruises were cancelled. On top of this, access to many overseas markets for our perishable goods became impossible as airfreight options evaporated. The long term security of our labour supply also remains in question.

Despite this disruption, agriculture industries and horticulture in particular remain resilient and possess some of the most promising potential for a rebound of the Queensland economy.

A green spring in Queensland is the roadmap developed by the horticulture industry to chart our own recovery from COVID-19. More than this, it is also the launch pad from which we will propel ourselves to even greater long term sustainability and profitability.

Horticulture will be the cornerstone of an agriculture led recovery of the Queensland economy. We are the second largest and fastest growing agricultural sector. We are incredibly efficient at turning energy, water and sunlight into nutritious produce, employment opportunities, and increasing regional wealth.

A green spring in Queensland is not just a roadmap for horticulture, it’s an action plan to reinvigorate rural and regional Queensland. Letting the handbrake off horticulture is going to be essential for recovering the Queensland economy, and for winning the coming election.

There is a direct relationship between lowering the price of our inputs, like power and water, over which the Queensland Government enjoys a near monopoly, and the amount of produce we can deliver, the local communities we can support, and the number of Queenslanders we can employ.

For too long Queensland governments of all colours have treated their pricing of water and electricity as means of indirect taxation. We need a new deal with the next government. One that recognises the immense contribution we can make, if only they let off the handbrake.

EXPLORE THE QUEENSLAND HORTICULTURE INDUSTRY POLICY PLATFORM

The horticulture industry is calling for a new deal to be struck with the next Queensland Government.

For an industry with so much promise here in Queensland, we lack a vision of where we want to be and a plan of action to get us there. There are statewide strategies in place for the charter fishing and craft brewing industries, but not for production horticulture.

We need a focus on horticulture within government, clear lines of responsibility, and we need to empower the right people to take action.

The Queensland Horticulture Council calls on the next Queensland Government to commit to:

  • Convening a summit of leaders in Queensland horticulture to set a new vision for our industry within the first 100 days of forming government.
  • Developing a dedicated industry strategy with a set of actions and accountabilities to ensure we arrive at our vision.
  • Appointing an industry-led group to oversee implementation and evaluation of the strategy.
  • Giving the Minister for Agriculture the power to control and direct those government services that are integral to the success of horticulture, including the administration of water and energy resources.
  • Establishing a sub-committee of the Queensland Cabinet, chaired by the Minister for Agriculture, through which priorities for agriculture are identified and progressed.

Good government starts with securing the fundamentals of a thriving society.

Making sure the population has a safe and secure food supply is the very first responsibility of any government, and that responsibility starts with ensuring the right water infrastructure is in place.

Water storages are absolutely essential infrastructure, not just for regional jobs and economies, but for ensuring we have healthy and fresh food sitting on the table in every Queensland home.

A predictable and affordable water supply is essential to a growing horticultural industry. It’s essential for securing regional jobs and attracting overseas and interstate investment to Queensland.

And yet a number of major horticultural regions across the State are struggling with expensive and insecure water.

The Queensland Horticulture Council calls on the next Queensland Government to commit to:

  • Maintaining and protecting existing water allocations and entitlements.
  • Removing dam safety costs from irrigation water pricing in perpetuity.
  • Exploring and investing in local water infrastructure projects, to ensure our future water security, that have the support of regional growing associations and groups.

Energy in Queensland is too expensive.

Ever increasing electricity prices are unsustainable, and together with increasing water prices are severely constraining horticultural production and with it regional economic growth and job creation.

In recognition of the role to be played by horticulture in an agriculture led recovery of the Queensland economy, we need tariffs in place that are designed not to penalise energy consumption, but promote it.

In addition, many growers are already in a position where the use of renewable energy would be advantageous, but are unaware of the benefits.

The Queensland Horticulture Council calls on the next Queensland Government to commit to:

  • Implementing a bespoke tariff for agriculture at 16 c/Kwh.
  • Incentivising growers to invest themselves in renewable energy, including the delivery of $10 million over the next four years to be co-invested with growers in renewables.

Payroll tax acts as a significant deterrent to business growth. Employers approaching the threshold at which payroll tax must be paid make decisions to not put on new workers in order to avoid being slapped with a large tax bill.

Compared to many industries, a greater proportion of the costs of producing fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts comes from labour expenses. Labour can often amount to 30-40% of production costs, in for some commodities can be as high as 70%. So payroll tax impacts our industry disproportionately.

Letting the handbrake off horticulture involves removing payroll tax for our industry.

The Queensland Horticulture Council calls on the next Queensland Government to commit to:

  • Providing an exemption for horticulture from payroll tax for the next four years.

The length and depth of the current drought has reached many parts of our industry that had never before been impacted by a big dry. While some areas have recently had some relieving rain, we are by no means out of the woods. And bank balances will take longer to recover than our crops.

Queensland horticulture has not historically had a level of involvement in the formulation of government policies and programs that reflects the significant impacts of droughts on our industry. As a result, the needs of horticulture have not been met with the same support as other agriculture industries.

Now is the time for horticulture to declare its interest in shaping the future of drought policies and programs in Queensland.

The Queensland Horticulture Council calls on the next Queensland Government to commit to:

  • $5 million in funding each year for programs that enhance long-term climate and drought preparedness and resilience of the horticulture industry.
  • Creating equity between agricultural sectors by extending the 50% rebate for emergency water infrastructure to those growers of permanent tree and vine crops.
  • Properly consult with the horticulture industry, in its own right, on all relevant drought policy and program developments.
    • Including representation of local and regional horticulture industry groups on Local Drought Committees.
  • Reducing fixed water supply tariffs levied on growers proportionate to the reduction in their water entitlement, whenever an irrigation area is drought declared.

The horticulture industry in Queensland must be developed sustainably. This requires horticultural enterprises to be profitable, socially viable and environmentally responsible.

There are bargaining power imbalances all the way down the fresh produce supply chain and particularly for growers at the end of the chain. This has translated to even narrower margins, less capacity to innovate and take on risk including new job creating business opportunities, and a reduced capacity to respond to future disruptions and natural disasters.

Unfortunately, in some cases, ever narrowing margins for growers also translates into attempts at externalising costs onto the environment, and a higher likelihood of worker exploitation.

Despite these challenges, the horticulture industry has a long and successful history of regulating its own behaviour. We have earnt the opportunity to first apply voluntary, workable, industry-led initiatives wherever possible to address labour and natural resource management issues.

The Queensland Horticulture Council calls on the next Queensland Government to commit to:

  • Exploring as a priority financial and market-based incentives to encourage the adoption of improved natural resource management practices, rather than relying on imposing regulation and greater costs on growers.
  • Removing the Waste Levy as it applies to horticulture, or else invest all levy funds raised from horticulture into practical programs and research that will reduce our reliance on single use plastics.
  • Investing $5 million over four years to support growers in Great Barrier Reef catchments to improve their practices and achieve voluntary Reef Certification through the Hort360 Best Management Practice program, and remove horticulture from the current Reef Regulations.

The export of agricultural produce represents one of the greatest opportunities for future growth within the Queensland economy. Where export markets for other agricultural produce are relatively mature, the unrealized export opportunities for horticulture in particular remain immense.

There remains many barriers to increasing the export of Queensland fresh produce, including establishing protocols for the safe export of our goods, and simply increasing the awareness of our own industry of the opportunities open to them, and building their skills so that can take these opportunities with both hands.

The Queensland Horticulture Council calls on the next Queensland Government to commit to:

  • Launching a strategic review of high value markets for Queensland grown commodities, including a prioritization of the top 10 markets for which we need to invest in protocol development.
  • Investing in the skills and capacity of Queensland horticultural producers for engaging with and accessing overseas markets, including:
    • Participation in new virtual and online trade facilitation and platforms; and
    • Building their own online presence and brand that highlights provenance.
  • Researching and developing new cold chain options to reduce dependence on airfreight.

While water, sunlight, soil and seed are important, its people that make our industry grow.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that job security producing fresh fruit and vegetables is second to none. Plus, horticulture is a dynamic and exciting industry with skilled roles that are well paid and lead to rewarding careers. Now is the time we need to be promoting the benefits of our industry to prospective employees.

Farm owners, managers and employees need access to training and services to improve supply chain management, business management and leadership skills, and increase efficiencies to allow their business to remain profitable in our ever changing operating environment.

The Queensland Horticulture Council calls on the next Queensland Government to commit to:

  • Delivering a public campaign that promotes both the short term seasonal work opportunities in horticulture available to Queenslanders as a result of disruptions caused by COVID-19, and the long term career opportunities for those with relevant skills.
  • Creating a clear pathway from early high school for young Queenslanders to follow, through to the end of high school, into vocational and higher education, then to employment and careers in horticulture.
  • Investing $5 million over four years in support for the Queensland Agriculture Workforce Network and their work in helping growers source skilled and willing workers.

Each of the competitive advantages the Queensland horticulture industry currently enjoys will be challenged in some way by new, disruptive technologies.

We are still enjoying the legacy of past significant investments into research and the development of tropical horticulture. This pipeline of improvements must continue to flow.

We cannot afford to rest on our laurels. Instead, to maintain our position as the premier state for fresh produce, we must push aggressively into new fields and domains, and accelerate our adoption of new tools and techniques.

The Queensland Horticulture Council calls on the next Queensland Government to commit to:

  • Developing a R&D strategy for tropical horticulture to focus our strengths and draw research investment into Queensland from interstate and overseas.
  • Establishing a competitive funding pool of $2 million over four years for horticulture, to assist businesses to commercialise innovative products, processes and services.
  • Creating an innovation adoption fund of $5 million over four years for horticulture, to provide co-investment to businesses wishing to implement cutting edge technologies.
  • Supporting the delivery by industry of a technology hackathon, bringing together growers and innovators to solve the most pressing problems identified by industry.
  • Identifying agriculture as priority industry for our economic recovery, and as a priority for grant funding through the Department of State Development, Tourism and Innovation.

Too often we underappreciate what we’ve got, until it’s gone. This adage could not be more appropriately applied than to our biosecurity. The risk of underinvestment in biosecurity is real.

So much of our competitive advantage in growing produce and accessing markets is a result of our superior biosecurity systems, and the absence of serious pests and diseases. We must always be building our investment across the biosecurity continuum, from surveillance at the border to containment and management programs for those pests and diseases that get through.

The Queensland Horticulture Council calls on the next Queensland Government to commit to:

  • Ensuring equity of investment between plant and animal biosecurity programs in Queensland that accurately reflects the economic risks each sector faces.
  • Investing more resources into surveillance programs across the north of Queensland, including training to raise awareness in communities across Cape York and the Gulf of Carpentaria.
  • Creating closer networks between individuals in different horticulture growing regions, to share knowledge and information about pest and disease movement and management.

Getting Queensland horticultural produce to market efficiently and effectively is just as important as the conditions for growing.

Queensland is a big state. The distance and time it takes to reach southern markets, particularly for growers in the Far North, limits opportunities for expanding our industry.

In addition, COVID-19 has accelerated changes in consumer preference toward buying online, home delivery, and for locally sourced produce. COVID-19 has also highlighted vulnerabilities in our existing food supply chain and the market dynamics within this supply chain that keep it inherently weak and prone to disruption by future disasters, natural or otherwise.

Accelerating, shortening and decentralising food supply chains will drive resiliency, increase the value to all participants in the food system including consumers, and create even more regional jobs.

The Queensland Horticulture Council calls on the next Queensland Government to commit to:

  • Upgrading key roads and bridge assets to unlock the potential of important routes for getting Queensland fresh produce to market.
    • Including B-Double routes, connections and unhitching pads, and access to inland rail.
  • Developing a plan for building the Queensland Inland Highway as an alternate freight route to the existing Bruce Highway.
  • Investing in alternate fresh produce supply chains that are local, shorter, more decentralised and responsive to changing consumer preferences.
QHC Logo & words
The Queensland Horticulture Council is the preeminent forum for deliberating horticulture policy in Queensland. It is comprised of representatives from Growcom and each of the major regional grower groups and associations. A green spring in Queensland is a product of extensive consultation between Council members and a wide array of other stakeholders. The commitments requested of the next Queensland Government are made by the Council on behalf of the wider horticulture industry.
Be in touch directly with member organisations for further comment and detail on the platform.
A green spring in Queensland is proudly endorsed by the following industry bodies