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Sam Turner - PCA Conference 2023:

"The world is crying out for our product, we just have to work out how to get it there"

There is plenty of demand for Australian-protected cropping exports, particularly in Asia, but there are several challenges surrounding supply, according to the peak industry body.

Executive Officer Sam Turner told the PCA Conference in Brisbane that it is important that people within the industry think creatively about how to add value to their products.

"To export, we deeply need to understand what we are trying to do and understand the markets that we are going into," Mr. Turner explained. "We need to understand consumers that are in that market and what they value from your product. We need to think creatively about how we can deliver that value to the market; it may not be that you are delivering a piece of fruit or a crop but exporting a technique that you are using on the farm. So, give the people what they want and tell them a story because that intrinsic value add is something that we often miss, and it is really important to our trading partners. The rest of the world is crying out for our product, we just have to work out how to get it there and to make money - we do that through marketing and being deliberate about what we are doing."

But Mr. Turner did highlight some challenges to exporting, including the cost of production in Australia, international protocols, capacity and market penetration, logistical challenges, and non-tariff barriers such as port congestion.

The conference also heard from Mike Evans from Fresh Partners Marketing, who highlighted that it is consumers are driving the industry because they are the ones who ultimately are introducing 'real money' into the system, therefore they need to be made feel important rather than it just be a bland transactional process.

"We (growers and sellers) are not the hero," Mr. Evans said. "Our job is to make the consumer at the shop feel like the hero. Our job, whether we have structures or knowledge, whatever you are doing - don't make it about yourselves. If you start telling consumers about how good you are and what infrastructure you have, they'll say, 'that means you will charge more for it.' If we change the story around and say, you can use our produce to help your family at a certain time of the day, you suddenly make them feel like the hero and like they are doing an important job."

It was not just marketing and exporting, but delegates also attended dedicated presentation sessions themed around New Crops and Production Systems, Industry Development, Root Zone and Substrate, and Post-Harvest and Food Safety. There were keynote speakers from Henry Gordon-Smith and Professor Paul Gauthier, and five students presented their research and development projects.

Heidi Wiggenhauser from Queensland's Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) explained some of the specialty crops that were being grown and researched by her department in the tropical areas of the state. This included specialty melons, ginger, turmeric, specialty pumpkins, squash, zucchini, flat beans, dragon fruit, rambutan, papaya, and bananas.

"Overseas, there are many of these crops that are already grown with protected cropping," Ms Wiggenhauser said. "As with any agriculture investment, the grower will need to identify the market opportunities and develop the production systems. At DAF, we are supporting the development of new crop opportunities through research projects, and we explore where protected cropping can be beneficial to the horticultural industry in not only Queensland but Australia."

There was also a session on medicinal cannabis, where delegates heard from grower Andrew Olley on how he has been able to keep growing costs down, as well as research projects into agronomy, pathology, and entomology, and another one on the importance of sex expression in cannabis sativa. The session opened with a presentation from Lucy Haslam, who has led the progression of medicinal cannabis in the country after she witnessed the dramatic relief of her son Dan who battled bowel cancer.

Emily Rigby also presented on the future of the cannabis industry in Australia, and while she admitted that across the country, it is not where it should be due to the high regulatory processes imposed by governments, she is optimistic that more growers across the country will come on board. As well as a medicinal purpose, she explored potential products from the plant, including food, drinks, ornamental, and neutraceuticals, as well as boosting tourism markets.

The industry dinner was also held Wednesday night, and then the four-day event concluded with farm tours across the region today.