Nuffield scholar and NSW apple and cherry grower Fiona Hall recently presented her preliminary report on investment in the apple industry at Nuffield’s 2016 National Conference.
Fiona’s original course of study was to focus on farm gate returns, but throughout the course of her scholarship she refocused it on investment in the apple industry.
Her research so far, which she presented at Nuffield’s 2016 National Conference in September, outlined some of the key challenges apple growers face in attracting investment to the industry and how the industry could benefit from investment.
“Many horticultural businesses simply don’t have the numbers to demonstrate their profitability and full value,” said Fiona. “We work a lot on productivity in the orchard, but not profitability.”
“Investors need information on the profitability of fruit growing businesses as an asset class so that they can compare them to other investment options like the share or property markets.
“Even so, if you average out an investment option’s profitability over ten years, and say shares gives an average return of 9 per cent per year. Compare this to an agricultural business which may only return 2-3 per cent per year. We just don’t compare as an investment.”
Fiona explained that growers needed to break the “vicious circle” that prevented investment in their business.
“As growers, we need to convert our orchards to higher density plantings that are more productive so we can attract investment. But to convert your orchard you need knowledge, time and capital to invest,” Fiona said. “We can also look at new markets to improve profitability.”
During her travel in the United States as part of her Nuffield Scholarship, Fiona met small-scale growers who decided to convert their orchards to organic rather than intensify them because that was going to be the most feasible and profitable option for them.
Fiona was also optimistic about the other ways fruit growers could be valuable to investors, beyond the pure monetary value.
“There is the nostalgic side to fruit production that is attractive to investors, for example,” she said. “We need to look at the value of our businesses from different perspectives – in the UK some fruit growers are taking up agri-tourism, which is proving successful.”
A video of Fiona’s Conference presentation, Investment into the Australian apple industry, is available via Nuffield’s YouTube channel. Cherry season is just about to start for Fiona, but after that is over, Fiona will prepare a final report on investment in the apple industry, which APAL will report on in 2017.
Fiona is the recipient of a fully funded Nuffield scholarship offered through APAL and Hort Innovation.