APAL Chair, Michele Allan, yesterday highlighted the need for greater cross-sector collaboration, rapid commercialisation of R&D techniques, and a stronger focus on ‘customer centricity’ as just three important challenges facing apple and pear growers.
Speaking at APAL’s AGM in Melbourne on Tuesday 30 October, Michele said increasing focus on ‘customer centricity’ would be important for growers, with APAL-commissioned consumer research showing that quality rather than price was the driving force for purchase.
“Our farm gate is poorly connected to the messages that are coming from consumers,” she said.
Michele also said attracting skilled labour throughout the supply chain would be vital to ensure the industry had the workforce needed to remain internationally competitive.
Addressing the floor, Yarra Valley grower David Finger said a first step to attracting more labour to orchards was to change the culture of talking about workers as ‘unskilled’ and recognise the contribution of seasonal workers in driving productivity.
“The current culture is that the very thing we spend the most on, is the area we pay the least attention to,” he said. “Too often we talk about unskilled labour when the reality is that it is access to the right skills at harvest time that can make or break our quality and productivity. You can lose 20 per cent of your packout at harvest. We need to value even our lowest-paid workers, and train them up and show them that there is an attractive career here for you.”
Michele also emphasised that the industry’s traditional approach of operating in commodity-based ‘silos’ would not serve horticulture well in a digital, networked future. Future collaboration would involve two fronts; internal industry collaboration, and collaboration across the sector to strengthen the quality and speed of our response to common issues like biosecurity and labour policy.
Collaboration would also be the best way to stay up to date.
“The most transformative technology that we need to start working with now is cross-sector,” she said, “Sensor technology, communications, robotics and automation, big data and genetics, all offer game changing potential. Competition in the domestic market will undoubtedly intensify as developing nations modernise their farming practices and supply chains, but equally the opportunity is there to capitalise on new export markets.”
Michele went on to say that having a single, documented Industry Strategy was a positive step towards helping the apple and pear industry address the biggest issues facing agriculture and work towards mutually beneficial outcomes.
To this end, APAL has developed a five-year strategy that is the first stage of a long-term plan to transform the profitability of the Apple & Pear Industry. The new Strategy addresses the fundamental issues that are holding back industry growth in a global market.
Emphasising the logic of levy payers having responsibility and accountability for their industry strategy through a peak body, Michele concluded: “The same logic applies to our funding model: Investment should be against an Industry-led strategy that takes into account the full spectrum of risks and opportunities presented by the pertinent trends and issues.”
Of the apple and pear industry’s future readiness, Michele said a small, but important and positive start had been made, citing:
- Growers were embracing and adopting new technologies;
- Initiatives like the Apple & Pear Quality Research showed the industry was starting to really listen to the consumer and connect the dots between what they want, and the quality we need to put onto shelves;
- APAL is launching their Market Access & Export Readiness Program to ensure that when that when market access was agreed, growers were well placed to take full advantage;
- APAL had an Apple and Pear Industry Strategy mapped out to focus investment and activities on a planned future and the practical actions and metrics that will deliver it.
In closing, Michele emphasised that disruption was inevitable but that the challenges could be met with planning and preparation.
“These mega trends will reshape our supply chains and as a peak body it is APAL’s responsibility ensure growers are equipped and enabled to adapt and thrive,” she said.
The meeting was well attended with all major growing regions represented. Two APAL Directors were re-elected: Joe Ceravolo for South Australia, and Paul Good for WA.