Dr Hugo Britt looks at three key areas of opportunity that emerged from APAL’s 2019 Industry Forum.
One hundred and eighty members of the apple and pear industry came together at the Melbourne Convention Centre last week for a fascinating day of learning and industry insights. The APAL Industry Forum offered a wide-ranging agenda, from AgriTech and SmartFarming to export readiness and risk management.
Three key themes that emerged over the course of the event were the opportunities presented by leveraging technology, working “stronger together” and developing export readiness.
1. Leveraging Technology
Opening the Forum with a warning that a failure to ride the digital wave will lead to growers being swept away, CSIRO Principal Scientist Stefan Hajkowicz set the scene for three AgriTech experts who followed. Ben van Delden (Head of AgriFood Tech, KPMG), Jesse Reader (Ag Sector Specialist, Robert Bosch Australia) and Dr James Underwood (Director, Green Atlas), separately explored the immense potential of AgTech for the apple and pear industry before coming together as a panel discussion. Key ideas that emerged from this science-packed part of the day included:
- Ensuring any potential investment in AgTech will solve real business challenges.
- The importance of having digital literacy among staff members, including a knowledge of data science in order to extract valuable insights from sensory systems.
- Making sure data is actionable – not just gathering orchard data for data’s sake.
- Preparing a farm for digital transformation by first ensuring adequate connectivity.
2. Stronger together
Arguably, the breaks between sessions at the Forum are just as valuable as the sessions themselves. Attendees took the opportunity to network; swapping news and tips that simply can’t be gained anywhere except in a face-to-face gathering like this.
“Stronger together” re-emerged as a theme multiple times throughout the day. A panel discussion featuring representatives from Apple and Pear State Associations compared and contrasted their views on the nationwide issues impacting the industry. Climatic challenges and extreme weather events including record temperature highs, bushfires, hailstorms and related bird infestations were discussed, along with valuable tips on systems and processes.
Part of working collectively lies in our ability to capture country-wide data, which is why the session by Alvin Kee (Financial Planning and Analysis Manager at APAL) was particularly important. Part of APAL’s mission is to get the best estimate of Australia’s growth and production capacity to enable the industry to work collectively to capture data annually and benchmark our quality and production.
With insurance premiums rocketing, the industry must come together to investigate alternative risk-management structures that could benefit growers and replace traditional insurances. A panel session titled “Working Together To Manage Risk” explored the idea of Discretionary Mutual Funds.
Finally, the 2019 Industry Forum saw the launch of “Future Business”, under the guidance of APAL’s Richelle Zealley. Future Business is designed to assist business owners with all non-growing business related activities to build capability and drive profit across the Apple and Pear industry. Individual business owners should not have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to improving commercial performance. Instead, they can leverage APAL’s central resource for advice.
3. Export Readiness
Although negotiations for access for mainland apples to China are still underway, the clear message from APAL CEO, Phil Turnbull on 24 June was that market access to China is “imminent”.
The theme of Export Readiness featured heavily throughout the day, with Phil reporting on preliminary market research undertaken by APAL to understand the Chinese market landscape and how consumer demands differ to Australia.
Essentially, the best export opportunities for apples lie in branded varieties, sold into selling windows when Aussie growers can compete against southern hemisphere (Chilean) competition to premium retailers and consumers who value high-quality Australian apples.
APAL’s research discovered that Chinese consumers:
- are prepared to pay a premium for quality and freshness
- seek new taste experiences
- demand assurances of quality
- use more expensive food (including fruit) as a way to show status
- look for brands that appeal to expectations of quality
- are interested in provenance stories about different climates, terrains and growing conditions and how they lead to different taste experiences
- want unwaxed, block red apples
- want less chemicals and pesticides (which is why Chinese mainland apples are unpopular in premium markets).
Chances are we will see future years’ delegates swapping learnings from the first few months of exporting to China!