More than 50 agribusiness industry representatives from across the region will come together today to identify opportunities for industry expansion as part of The Future of Agribusiness on the Sunshine Coast conference to be held at the Innovation Centre Sunshine Coast on Tuesday, 25 March.
Sunshine Coast Business Council (SCBC) Chair Sandy Zubrinich said with the agribusiness industry under pressure both regionally and nationally, the conference — hosted by SCBC — aimed to shine a spotlight on the local industry with farmers and other groups involved in the industry pinpointing which sectors have growth and investment potential.
“While recent data shows the Sunshine Coast economy grew by almost 20 per cent between 2006 and 2011, the agriculture sector remained stagnant, recording growth of just 0.7 per cent,” Ms Zubrinich said.
“This is compared to 12.3 per cent state-wide, and indicates action needs to be taken to ensure the industry remains viable and the livelihoods of local farmers’ employees are secure.”
Ms Zubrinich said employment within the sector had already declined at a local level, with the industry’s 3,000-plus jobs in 2006 dropping to just over 2,600 by 2011 — a decrease of more than 18 per cent.
“The reality is that this trend has also been experienced state-wide over the same five-year period. Employment within the Queensland agriculture sector has declined by more than 10 per cent,” Ms Zubrinich said.
“This can attributed in part to productivity improvements, so while it’s always disappointing to see jobs disappear, the figures suggest local farmers are becoming more savvy about their production processes, which is a nice silver lining.”
Ms Zubrinich said given the current state of the industry which appeared mixed, with many success stories as well as stories of hardship, she looked forward to seeing the upcoming agribusiness conference identify growth sectors and investment opportunities, and start the dialogue to develop strategies for overcoming barriers to industry advancement.
“SCBC are prepared to work with industry and business to further investment opportunities and with local government to address impediments to growth identified by farmers, such as access to water in times of drought, encroaching urbanisation and high land costs,” Ms Zubrinich said.
“The agribusiness sector has been named as one of the Sunshine Coast’s high-value industries in the recently released Regional Economic Development Strategy (REDS), so it’s crucial that business, government and industry join together to help this industry prosper.”
“I expect Sunshine Coast Council will be looking to identify industry representatives at the conference to participate in the proposed agribusiness taskforce, which forms part of the REDS implementation program.”
“We are also very encouraged by the level of support shown by the business community for this forum in the likes of Suncorp Bank, Coles and the Noosa and Kawana Waters Farmers Market who have all supported the event. It is clear that all stakeholders are looking for an opportunity for a round-table discussion.”
The Future of Agribusiness on the Sunshine Coast conference will incorporate presentations from Minister for the Environment and Heritage Protection Andrew Powell MP, Suncorp Bank Head of Agribusiness Greg Leahy, Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson and local farmer and consultant John Switala.
Dr Switala said while the Sunshine Coast’s 900-plus farms were undoubtedly facing a number of obstacles, the future of the local agribusiness industry was far from bleak.
“We’ve already witnessed a number of local success stories that have resulted from product and marketing diversification,” Dr Switala said.
“A great example is the Buderim Ginger Factory, which expanded its product offering beyond fresh produce and processed goods whereby attracting tourism.”
“We’ve also seen local industry focus heavily on research and development, developing new sweeter varieties of pineapples that will assist them to gain access to high valued markets.”
Dr Switala said opportunities were not limited to Australian borders, with overseas countries proving to be viable markets for local farmers.
“There is a growing demand for fresh produce around the globe, particularly in some areas of Asia,” Dr Switala said.
“This conference is about identifying these opportunities and developing plans to help these ideas become a reality.”
The Future of Agribusiness on the Sunshine Coast conference will be held at the Innovation Centre Sunshine Coast on Tuesday, 25 March between 2.00pm and 5.00pm. The conference is an invitation-only event.
For more information regarding the conference or the Sunshine Coast Business Council, please visitwww.scbusinesscouncil.com.au.