Alarming Vegetable Industry Statistics

According to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) report on Agricultural commodities for the year ending June 2015, the gross value of the vegetable industry has declined 4.6% compared to the 2013-14 period. In fact, the value of the industry has declined 11.1% since 2012-13.

The decrease is attributed to cheap vegetable imports and a reduction in vegetable growing operations. These are uncomfortable statistics that reflect the impacts of globalisation, where imported commodities are grown to less strict standards using cheap labour. In a nutshell, Australian growers are at a competitive disadvantage and the vegetable industry is in decline.

According to AUSVEG, the peak industry body for Australian potato and vegetable growers, vegetable growing operations in Australia has declined by 15% and the total area sown with vegetables in 2014-15 declined by nearly 12,000 hectares. If that’s difficult to comprehend, think 120 square miles of lost farm land. It’s an alarming statistic over a short period of time (see News & Products).

The vast majority of Australian vegetables are field grown, however about 11% are grown under cover according to a vegetable growing farm survey in 2009-10. If there is one glimmer of optimism for the Australian horticulture industry, it is the protected cropping industry, which continues to expand across a range of fruit, vegetable, herb and flower commodities. It’s disappointing that neither the ABS nor the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARES) have sought to quantify the industry in terms of size, value and workforce. It’s information that can only lead to better planning and industry outcomes.

In this issue we focus on another commodity, medicinal cannabis, and the forthcoming Hemp Health & Innovation Expo and ‘United in Compassion’ Medicinal Cannabis Symposium, to be held in Sydney from 14-15 May 2016, to be opened by NSW Premier Mike Baird. The legalisation of medicinal cannabis in Australia is attracting considerable interest from various groups, from the sugar cane industry to the greenhouse horticulture sector. This is a commodity that needs to be grown to exacting standards to ensure consistent high quality for a range of medical products. This means a controlled growing environment.

The Australian medical cannabis industry will not mimic the North American model. There are even vast differences in regulations when comparing Canada and the United States, where cannabis, including medicinal cannabis, is illegal at the federal level. There are currently 23 states (a rising number) along with Washington DC that allow cannabis to be used to treat certain medical conditions. Even at the state level, the laws and their associated criteria and implementation vary significantly. In Australia, there will be a national licensing scheme, which will include administration of licence and licence variation applications, site inspections (to support application decisions), post-licence inspections, sampling and testing, and the acquisition of law enforcement data to allow determinations related to a ‘fit and proper’ person test, as well as other compliance and law enforcement regulations.

Finally, in this issue we publish a tribute to a true pioneer of the hydroponics industry in The Netherlands and the world. Abram (Bram) Steiner may not be a familiar name to many readers, but his early work on plant nutrition and substrate culture are the building blocks of today’s modern hydroponics industry. Vale Bram Steiner.

Steven Carruthers

PH&G April 2016 / Issue 166