Taking the next step

The 10th Hydroponic Farmers Federation (HFF) conference and exhibition recently held at the Lorne Mantra will be remembered for its beautiful location on the Surf Coast of Victoria, and a quality speaker program.

Unlike many other events on the Australian horticulture conference calendar, the HFF and Protected Cropping Australia (PCA) biennial events attract commercial growers in large numbers, new business start-ups, entrepreneurs, and allied trades. Held on alternate years, these two events are barometers to the health of the industry, pointers to the restraints and challenges for growers, indicators of technology up-take across a broad range of crops, and they present insights into current and future trends in the fresh food and flower markets. The participants represent the grass roots of the commercial hydroponic and greenhouse industry in Australia.

This year’s HFF event went to a new level with initiatives to broaden the attraction for delegates from all types of growing backgrounds. The event also engaged with community groups to reinforce the positive message that eating salads and vegetables is fun and enjoyable. It’s something the industry doesn’t do well—market itself to consumers—so it was refreshing to witness growers and consumers coming together to share and taste grower produce.

Overall, the health of the Australian industry is in good shape with growers and traders optimistic about the future. One bleak area is the Australian flower sector, which has felt the effects of cheap imports. It’s an issue that also affects growers of fresh vegetables and salads. Those who are surviving and striving in the flower industry are producers of niche products, high-tech producers who can provide volume and economies of scale, and growers who have diversified. Gerbera growers are doing nicely because they do not travel well from overseas, as well as lily growers because lilies are heavy for air travel. However, the downturn in the flower industry is not an Australian phenomena; it’s a global trend for reasons ranging from high labour and input costs to changing consumer behaviour. Areas of growing interest are organic flower production, edible flowers and petals, and freeze drying.

Another insight from the HFF conference was a grower’s reflection into having to do a nationwide product recall following an indication of Listeria in a batch of fresh herbs. The grower talked about the incident and the lessons learnt from that experience, which may help any grower faced with a similar situation. As it turned out, it was a false alarm and the brand escaped unharmed.

A presentation on turning the business around also captured a wide audience, as did the presentation on marketing trends and innovations, and the Love My Salad ‘Masterclass’ workshop conducted by award-winning chef Christopher Howe, which attracted members of the community and raised money for the Lorne Fire Brigade.

The exhibition area proved a popular meeting place during coffee breaks and lunching, and brought together existing, intending, and the next generation of growers and industry support people.

This grower-owned and managed organisation delivered on its promise to encourage and inspire a diverse range of growers to take the next step in their business operations. The next opportunity for growers and support industries to come together will be the APEX-Brinkman PCA conference to be held at the Adelaide Convention Centre, South Australia, from 9-12 July 2017. This event also promises to bring together delegates from all types of growing backgrounds and technical expertise. Mark your calendar!  Ω

Steven Carruthers

PH&G July 2016 / Issue 169


Translator