Women in horticulture boosted by $135k in leadership grants

WOMEN who are current and emerging leaders in the horticulture industry can now apply for a leadership development scholarship opportunity valued at up to $10,941 each.

Funded by Hort Innovation and Women and Leadership Australia (WLA), the scholarship grants cover up to 60 percent of the cost of the programs. The funding is specifically designed for women working in the horticultural sector who are emerging, mid-level or senior leaders in their sector and workplace.

Hort Innovation chief executive officer, Matt Brand said the gender disparity within the agriculture industry was well recognised. He said Hort Innovation was keen to support a new era of gender equality and integration across horticulture through strategic levy investment.

“In recent years we have invested heavily in leadership projects encouraging women to take the lead by working with partnering organisations to offer tailored programs designed to build skills and provide leadership training and opportunities,” Mr Brand said. 

“Through the Hort Frontiers Leadership Fund, we have already had 12 women undertake the Masterclass in Horticultural Business training, with five graduations in the last round.

“Our partnership program with WLA has already seen 11 successful graduates from the Women in Leadership project, and there are another three scholarship recipients currently enrolled.”

Scholarship applicants can choose from three courses, the Accelerated Leadership Performance Program, the Executive Ready Program and the Advanced Leadership Program. The blended courses are delivered on a part-time basis over four, seven or 12 months respectively.

Mr Brand said participants would learn skills such as heightened presence and influence, managing team dynamics, driving performance and leading innovation and change.

The funding is available to individuals and groups of employees who own or work within businesses that pay a levy to Hort Innovation.

One of last year’s scholarship recipients, Mardee Cassin, said of the opportunity: “As a young woman in the Australian horticulture industry I applied to the Accelerated Leadership Performance Program to gain practical tools to equip me as I develop myself in my professional career. 

“Participating in the program provided me with exactly that. I am now more confident in communicating and working with a broad range of people both within my current workplace and beyond.”

WLA program director, Suzi Finkelstein said of the program, “We are delighted to be taking this grant program into its second year. Women working in the horticulture sector, or any sector for that matter, deserve to be given every opportunity to excel and take on leadership roles, particularly in industries that are traditionally male dominated and that have significant gender pay gaps.

“Studies show that the more women you have in leadership roles in workplaces and industries, the lower the gender pay gap is for that workplace. Even though this developmental program is only in its second year, I know that we are making a positive and tangible difference in this sector.

“I hear success stories and positive outcomes regularly from past participants. WLA is thrilled to be working with Hort Innovation to deliver real change, and I encourage all horticulture sector women to apply.”


Equity crowdfunded Food Connect Shed to boost farming communities

BRISBANE-BASED ethical food business, Food Connect – established to connect local farmers with local buyers – plans to be Australia’s first community-owned food hub.

Food Connect is based at Salisbury on the south side of Brisbane’s and it has become one of the first companies in Queensland to sign up to crowdfunding platform PledgeMe.

Food Connect’s equity crowdfunding move has joined the fast-growing number of companies around the world giving their communities an opportunity to be their investors. 

Food Connect Shed director Robert Pekin started the company in 2005 after he lost his fourth-generation dairy farm. Since then he has been on a mission to create a fairer food system for farmers and buyers. 

“We ethically and transparently engage local farmers to supply ecological food that is in season and super fresh and we pay them about four times the amount of the big food chains, so more of the customer’s dollar goes directly to the growers,” Mr Pekin said. 

“Over the last 13 years, Food Connect has worked with over 80 local farmers, 40 local producers, and generated over $25 million in revenue for the local food economy.

“The warehouse we’ve been leasing for more than 10 years is now for sale and we’ve been offered the chance to buy it.  We know we have the experience to run the space, we just need the funds to help make that happen.”

Food Connect Shed director Emma-Kate Rose said local food hubs were a growing movement internationally.

“We want to start the first one here in Queensland,” Ms Rose said.

“We want the community to come on this journey with us, we want them to be part of a fairer food system, we want them to help make a difference for our local farming community, we want the public to own the infrastructure.

“We realise we could have gone down a more traditional capital raising route but we wanted to offer the shares to a wider, more diverse group of potential investors like the community that has been supporting us for the past decade,” she said.

“We have always been driven by community, it’s only natural to be owned by it too.”

PledgeMe recently expanded to Australia and is Queensland’s first equity crowdfunding business to be based in the state, attracted by the Queensland Government’s Advance Queensland HotDesq initiative.

PlegeMe is also one of only nine groups across Australia, so far, to secure one of the ground-breaking crowdfunding licences from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission early this year.

Co-founder Anna Guenther said PledgeMe has had over $28 million pledged to date in New Zealand. 

“We’ve seen everything from a group of local citizens raise $2 million in 32 hours to buy a chocolate company in Dunedin to keep chocolate making skills and jobs in the town, through to the world’s youngest equity crowdfunder, Indy Griffiths, raising $50,000 at 19 years old,” Ms Guenther said.

“Equity crowdfunding is shaking up traditional funding and investment models. In 2017 there was $34 billion pledged through crowdfunding platforms internationally, but by 2025 they are estimating that to increase to over $300 billion.” 

The PledgeMe campaign launched on August 21 and the Food Connect Foundation was successful.

Food Connect Shed Limited is a new public unlisted company and wants to raise between $2 million and $4 million which will represent 90 percent of the company. The shares are priced at $1 per share, and the minimum investment is $500.

Public investors will be able to invest up to $10,000 each. Food Connect Shed Limited will be part owned by the Food Connect founders Robert Pekin and Emma-Kate, as well as the Food Connect Foundation Limited.

Funds raised in this round will be used to purchase the existing warehouse, and if the minimum goal is exceeded the funds will be used to refurbish and retrofit the warehouse. The new company will aim to generate revenue through rental fees and venue hire. The warehouse currently has 12 tenants, with aims of adding 30 new tenants over the next three years.

Investors will own shares in the company that owns the warehouse and manages the tenants in the space.

EY to plan road map to rural innovation

AGRICULTURE Minister David Littleproud has commissioned Ernst & Young (EY) to develop a strategic vision for the future of Australia’s rural innovation system. 

Mr Littleproud said delivering a shared vision would require extensive consultation and input from a broad range of stakeholders.

“The project will involve more than 450 interviews and 10 workshops and will look overseas at other systems to ensure we capture the latest approaches and leading thinking on research, innovation and agtech development,” Mr Littleproud said.

“EY will consult widely and then develop this shared vision for the future of Australian agriculture, and describe how rural innovation will drive the sector towards this shared vision. 

“I want all players from across agriculture, research and agtech sectors to contribute. 

“The report will look at how to get the most out of Australia’s rural innovation system through spurring cooperation and collaboration, attracting capital from around the globe and developing our research ideas into cutting edge technology. 

“Australia should have a world-class, modern and dynamic rural innovation system which attracts capital and delivers the results of research as real tools farmers can use. 

“Our rural innovation system has helped farmers increase productivity over the past 30 years and needs to continue to do that as we move towards the NFF’s (National Farmers Federation) target of an agriculture sector worth a $100 billion by 2030,” Mr Littleproud said.

“Let’s make sure Australia's rural innovation system is ‘fit for the future’ and improve it through more strategic collaboration, improved pathways to commercialisation and by becoming a more attractive place for investment in research and agtech development. 

"This is not a restructure of the RDCs,” he said. “I want all players across the industry to contribute to this work so we all have a shared vision going forward. This should be something every farmer and farm-related business can be part of and get real benefit from – not a bunch of buzz words which mean nothing and help no-one. 

“It’d be great to leave a legacy which delivers for Australia long after the next election. Nobody ever delivered anything great by focussing only on today.”

The new vision of Australia’s innovation system is planned to be launched early 2019.​  


CSIRO app gives farmers ‘grain’ of truth

AUSTRALIAN farmers can now forecast grain yield at the touch of a button, thanks to a new smart phone app developed by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO.

The innovation, known as Graincast, allows growers to estimate yields ranging from a single paddock, right up to their entire farm.

“Having a yield forecast can help farmers with crop input management, setting yield targets, diagnosing yield constraints, risk management, marketing decisions, forward selling and more,” CSIRO scientist Roger Lawes said. 

“The app is easy to use, and growers need to input just three pieces of information – the paddock they want analysed, the crop grown last season and the crop they plan to grow or are growing in the current season. That’s it.”

Dr Lawes said it was the only app that gave instantaneous soil, water and yield information at any time without the need for substantial user input.

“It means growers can make better informed crop and paddock management decisions – in near real-time – like never before,” he said. 

The app was developed by CSIRO scientists in response to feedback from grain growers about what they needed, and what they liked about their job.

“They told us that they wanted something that was mobile, quick and easy to use,” Dr Lawes said. “They didn’t want to be told what to do, they just wanted the key information so they could decide what was best for them. So that’s what we built.

“The Graincast app helps growers with their crop decision-making instincts.”

Dr Lawes said Graincast draws on information from satellites, climate forecasts and sensors to estimate historical crop yields, yield potential and crop species.

Crop models are combined with soil maps to create yield forecasts for the Australian continent. This information comes from the Soil and Landscape Grid of Australia, the Agricultural Production Systems Simulator (APSIM) crop model, MODIS and LANDSAT satellites, as well as other sources.

The data is brought together in CSIRO’s newly constructed data platform and output to a smart phone for agricultural businesses to quickly acquire information about production without the hassle of identifying soil types, calibrating models, searching for satellite information or trying to interpret complex data.

Protecting privacy of businesses and the opportunity for users to withdraw at any time was an important feature when designing the app, Dr Lawes said.

He said, in an Australian first, the smarts behind the app enabled various other industry players such as advisers, bulk handlers, marketers, commodity forecasters and insurers to forecast grain production at the regional and national scales.

Gaincast is part of CSIRO’s Digiscape Future Science Platform, which is harnessing the digital revolution for Australian farmers and land managers.

The app is free by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


A Better Choice program boosts fruit and veg buying

THE FIRST first national program designed to encourage consumers to shop for fresh produce at their local independent retailer aims to unite the fruit and vegetable industry and reward consumer loyalty.

A Better Choice program is a  joint initiative by Fresh Markets Australia (FMA) and the Central Markets Association of Australia (CMAA). The bodies are working in alliance with industry partners on branding and co-promotional activities. 

The program supports 500 independent fruit and vegetable retailers nationally, who supply more than half of the fresh produce sold across Australia, by engaging consumers and highlighting the benefits of shopping at independent retailers. 

FMA chairman Shane Schnitzler said the national program “would benefit growers, wholesalers, retailers and associated fresh produce businesses for generations to come”.

“A Better Choice offers retailers the opportunity to come together and share the benefits of a national marketing strategy to shape a positive future for independent retailers, the central markets and local farmers who supply them,” Mr Schnitzler said.

“This program has been developed following in-depth research and feasibility studies to learn more about consumers’ shopping habits and what matters most to them when it comes to purchasing fruit and vegetables.”

A national consumer sentiment survey found the key motivators for consumers to shop at their independent retailer were the freshness of produce (92%), supporting a local business (90%), and trust in the quality of the produce (86%).

However, more than 88 percent of people surveyed still chose to shop at supermarkets due to the perceived convenience.

“Whether it’s in the form of social media, flyers or in-store activities, our message to consumers is that when you see the ‘A Better Choice’ logo you can be assured that you are buying only the freshest produce that has been grown right here in Australia,” Mr Schnitzler said.

FMA works alongside the Central Market System which is made up of over 15,000 growers, supplying wholesalers in the major marketing and distribution hubs in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Newcastle.

Mr Schnitzler said the Central Markets were connected to every link in the supply chain and provided the critical connection between growers and consumers to bring the freshest produce to Australian tables.

Brisbane Markets Limited CEO Andrew Young believes a national program will educate more people about the benefits of shopping at independent retailers.

“Better Choice is really just that, a better choice for retailers, consumers and the industry. Australian growers produce excellent quality fresh produce and the A Better Choice program will help to highlight to consumers how they can better support local fresh produce growers and independent retailers,” Mr Young said.

A Better Choice was launched at Hort Connections, the annual industry conference and trade show for buyers and sellers from every segment of Australia’s fresh produce and floral supply chain, in June. 

FMA is an advocacy group for Australia’s produce wholesalers and independent retailers, representing more than 430 wholesaling businesses who supply 50-60 percent of the fresh produce sold across Australia. Membership comprises Market Chambers across six states including Brismark (Brisbane), Marketwest (Perth), South Australian Chamber of Fruit and Vegetables (Adelaide), Fresh State (Melbourne), Newcastle Markets (Newcastle) and Freshmark (Sydney).

The Central Markets Association of Australia (CMAA) was formed in 2001 to provide a peak body for the six wholesale central markets around Australia. Collectively, these wholesale central markets supply over 4 million tonnes of fresh produce each year, worth an estimated wholesale value of $7 billion. CMAA members include the Adelaide Produce Market, Brisbane Markets, Market City in Western Australia, the Melbourne Market, Newcastle Market and the Sydney Markets.

E-mail:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Agri-tech gives mango producers the edge

TWO North Queensland mango growers contracted to produce the specialty Honey Gold variety for fruit producer, Piñata Farms, are innovating, expanding and investing in technology in their quest to set new benchmarks for product quality.

Mareeba-based Honey Gold Grower of the Year 2018 award winners, Maurice and Madeline Cetinic of Crocodile’s Choice and Sam and Kylie Collins of Blushing Acres have implemented significant farm developments to equip their businesses for growth of the specialty mango line. Honey Gold already holds about 10 percent of the Australian mango market.  

Crocodile's Choice has about 11,300 Honey Gold trees under cultivation and employs up to 60 seasonal workers during the six-week harvest between December and January. Of its 60 hectares, about 35ha are devoted to Honey Golds. The farm also produces Kensington Pride and Keitt mangoes.
Owner Maurice Cetinic said Crocodile’s Choice was investing in a solid future with Honey Golds after nearly a decade of producing the variety in commercial volumes.

“Next season, we’ll have two harvesting aids, manufactured in Mareeba at a cost of $400,000, in the orchard,” Mr Cetinic said. “We’re hoping to plant an extra 3000 to 4000 trees in the next two years and, by 2019, we aim to have a fully automated irrigation system. The future's looking bright.”


His confidence follows a record Australian mango season in which Crocodile’s Choice produced about 20 percent more Honey Golds than the previous year. Mr Cetinic attributed this to young trees reaching maturity and favourable growing conditions.

Mr Cetinic said he was “chuffed” to receive Piñata Farms’ major growing award, announced at the annual Honey Gold Congress in Bundaberg in May.

“We planted our first Honey Gold tree in 2002 after we were introduced to the variety by a visiting mango industry spokesman,” Mr Cetinic said.

“We were immediately impressed with the variety’s attributes including its dark apricot colour and red blush, its firmness, fine texture and distinctive taste. As experienced mango growers, we immediately knew it had legs.”

Piñata Farms later bought the rights to the variety and Crocodile’s Choice was among the first third-party growers to produce fruit for its first commercial year in 2009.

“As individual growers, we apply best practice but we also don't leave anything to chance in terms of nutrition, pruning or spraying. We do what we have to do and then some,” Mr Cetinic said.

“The soil in this region is pretty poor, but mangoes seem to love it. Every two weeks we have a pest management scout look over the crop and we follow any recommendations to a tee.

“Having a company such as Piñata Farms to market your produce makes all the difference. We love growing mangoes and while we concentrate on growing, Piñata Farms works hard to achieve the highest possible returns.

“It’s great to know what you’re doing is working and that you’re at the top of your game. We hope to get close to the mark every season.”


About 30 contracted third-party growers were in contention for the award, which recognises fruit quality, growing practices, communication and commitment to long-term plans for variety, according to Pinata Farms managing director, Gavin Scurr. 

Blushing Acres was among the first producers in the Mareeba region to adopt optical grading technology and in-line labelling in 2014, Mr Scurr said.

Blushing Acres owner, Kylie Collins said the grading technology had achieved significant benefits in operational efficiency and product quality and had provided a return on investment in its first year.

“The Compac InVision system, made to our specifications in New Zealand, is programmed to look at every part of an individual piece of fruit and reject fruit that doesn’t meet customer standards. It also grades for weight and is consistently accurate,” Mrs Collins said.

“It was a significant investment as we had to extend the shed and set up mirror-image lines to accommodate it. However, the efficiency we’ve achieved has been worth it.

“In this past season, we processed 94 percent premium fruit and our ability to pack more premium fruit increases our returns. The quality of fruit this past season was also spectacular and that was a result of good practices on the farm.

“We’re also using an in-line labelling machine which labels fruit automatically - and consistently – as presentation with a premium line such as Honey Gold is paramount.

“These technologies have saved us five or six people a day (in labelling), and two or three people a day (in grading). We need to ‘teach’ the software what to look for and we need to train our packing staff to support the technology, but the labour savings have been enormous.”

Mrs Collins said Blushing Acres also introduced three harvesting aids, manufactured at nearby Tolga last season.

“This, along with Sam’s attention to detail in the paddock, contributed positively to our high premium pack-out,” she said.

“If technology can reduce labour and improve our lifestyle, we’re all for it.”

Blushing Acres has about 7,000 Honey Gold trees under cultivation. It also produces other Calypso mangoes and avocados, outputting usually 48 pallets a day. The family business won Pinata Farms 2017 Honey Gold Grower of the Year award.

Piñata Farms is Australia’s exclusive producer of specialty Honey Gold mangoes, harvesting the specialty variety in five states between November and March.
Mr Scurr said Pinata Farms had always been a technology adopter and industry innovator. 

He applauded growers’ efforts to adopt technology to improve product outcomes where feasible.

“Automation needs to be part of farming’s future landscape, particularly when Australian labour costs are so high. From automated irrigation to drones to monitor crops, anything that reduces farm inputs is attractive.”


Farm production shows resilience​

THE GROSS VALUE of farm production is forecast to increase to $61.4 billion in 2018-19, up from $60.5 billion in 2017-18 according to the ABARES Agricultural Commodities report, and well above the 10-year average.

According to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, barley, horticulture, lamb, milk, wheat and wool production values are all expected to rise.

However, farm export earnings are forecast to be $47 billion in 2018-19, 2 percent lower than the forecast $47.8 billion last year and 4.4 percent down on the peak of 2016-17. Even so, higher export earnings are expected next year for beef and veal, cheese, cotton, lamb and wool.

The ABARES report pegged livestock production value to rise 3 percent in 2018-19 to $30 billion. Lamb and wool production are forecast to contribute strongly to growth, driven by price growth and a depreciating dollar. Australian dairy is expected to grow in value, reflecting increased production.

The value of crop production is forecast to remain unchanged at $31 billion. Australian wheat production is forecast to rise 3 percent in 2018-19 to 21.9 million tonnes from the 2017-18 levels.

Australian sugar production is forecast to increase by 2.8 percent to 4.8 million tonnes in 2018-19 in the face of falling world prices. Australian beef and veal production is forecast to increase 2.5 percent to 2.3 million tonnes.

Export earnings for fisheries products are forecast to increase to $1.6 billion, after increasing by 10 percent in 2017-18. Australian cotton exports are forecast to increase by 6 percent in 2018-19 to 963,000 tonnes.

The value of wool exports is forecast to increase 9 percent to $4.7 billion in 2018–19.​ 

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said dry seasonal conditions during autumn had seen a shaky start to the crop season in eastern Australia, however overall crop value should remain unchanged.

“Farm production is on the up, thanks to strong demand for Aussie lamb, wool and cotton across our international markets,” Mr Littleproud said.

“Farm exports are expected to reach $47 billion in 2018-19. Cotton exports are forecast to rise by a huge 18 percent to $2.6 billion thanks to world consumption outpacing world production, lifting prices.”

He said the 9 percent forecast growth in wool exports were due to limited growth in the world supply of fine and superfine wools, lifting prices.

“Lamb exports are forecast to rise by 10 percent to $2.3 billion, while the value of beef and veal exports is forecast to increase by 2 percent to $7.8 billion,” Mr Littleproud said.

“Our farmers are already benefiting from current free trade agreements with China, Japan, Korea, and will get better access to key markets through the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“To ensure our farmers see the benefits of our free trade agreements I recently announced six additional agricultural counsellors to be on the ground in markets where we are negotiating free trade agreements.

“Some of our farmers are really copping it as drought conditions roll on and that’s why recently I announced $20.3 million to extend the Rural Financial Counselling Service to 2020,” he said.

“The Farm Household allowance remains on the table as an option for those doing it tough, helping over 7,900 since it was launched in 2013. Farmers must not self-assess for this service but should seek advice through the Department of Human Services.”


Contact Us


PO Box 2144