Industry Growth Forecast

It’s heartbreaking to watch Australian farmers and food processing industries go to the wall because of cheap imports and supermarket price wars. A case in point is the Coles supermarket milk price war that has hit processor profits and forced down milk prices to farmers to where the majority are making losses. Two-and-a-half years later, the supermarket promotion has seen more than 80 dairy farming families leave the industry in Queensland alone, at a time when the State is short of milk to meet the needs of consumers. According to the Queensland Dairyfarmers’ Organisation, the loss of these farmers equates to a loss of some $40 million of investment in fresh milk production, and the loss of 240 jobs at a farm level, as well as more staff losing their jobs along the value chain.

In the horticulture industry, five food processors have closed their Australian operations over the past two years, owing to high costs and cheap imports. As one presenter at the recent Protected Cropping Australia conference so elegantly put it, when we hear politicians spruik Australia as the food bowl of Asia, at a time when farmers are leaving the land, it’s a lie.

Some good news for the horticulture industry are forecasts by IBISWorld, a leading market research company, that outdoor and undercover vegetable production are projected to grow 3.6% and 4% per annum, respectively. This growth is projected to result from increases in production value due to improved production volumes, and greater health consciousness in consumers, according to the IBISWorld report. The report estimates that the vegetable industry grew at around 1.5% per annum in the five years from 2007-08 to 2012-13, during a period where consumer spending slumped, and the industry was hit by adverse seasonal conditions and unfavourable exchange rate movements.

This estimate is in line with the growth of the Protected Cropping industry, which has fallen from 4% year-on-year growth before the Global Financial Crisis, to about 1.5 to 2% growth since the GFC.

In this issue, our report on the recent Protected Cropping Australia Conference and Trade Show looks at the health of the industry, according to leading equipment suppliers and service providers. The conference highlighted new innovations and future developments that will see higher production volumes. Delegates heard what Coles supermarkets want from produce, the National Australia Bank spoke about Australia’s economic future, and industry experts from Australia and around the world gave us a glimpse into emerging aquaponics technology and advanced greenhouse temperature and light control using optics and refractors. Specialty workshops imparted practical knowledge and ideas about how to improve growing operations, and the exhibition showcased the latest products and innovations. This was one of the best industry conferences I have attended in terms of delegate and exhibitor numbers, content and organisation. The event demonstrated that the Australian Protected Cropping industry is ready to co-host ICESC-2015 in conjunction with the International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS). The Symposia will be held at Jupiter’s Gold Coast in early July 2015 and is expected to attract delegates from around the world. Watch this space for updates.

Steven Carruthers

September 2013 / Issue #135