MT18020: Facilitating the development of the Australian berry industries

In a first for Australian horticulture, we are pleased to deliver to you a combined berry industry development and communication project funded by levy and with contributions from the Australian Government.

The Australian berry industry comprises three distinct sectors – strawberries, Rubus and blueberries – that have traditionally operated separately from each other in terms of research, development and extension. This separation just doesn’t reflect today’s industry as many growers grow more than one type of berry; many of the biosecurity and chemical access issues are similar and they occupy the same niche within the retail sector – the so-called ‘berry basket’. Also, a number of joint berry R&D programs currently being funded by Hort Innovation, or proposed for future investment, logically benefit from a shared extension platform.

So, it makes economic sense to join forces, but will it deliver more for levy payers? The answer to that question is a resounding yes. The focus of this project is to communicate best practice to all berry growers and improve their knowledge and skills to enable them to adopt R&D outcomes. A ‘whole of berries’ approach will improve efficiencies and allow for coordinated extension of the many cross-berry R&D projects as well as a platform for commodity specific project extension.

There will be more resources on the ground in the growing regions than ever before; there will be more valuable learning opportunities facilitated through workshops, field days and farm tours; and there will be regular communication of everything that is important for you to grow your business whether you are a family farm or part of a global corporation.

Berries Australia was chosen as the delivery partner for this project and we will deliver a nationally coordinated, locally implemented industry development program building in specialist skills and knowledge underpinned by an effective and modern communications program.

Under this approach, all berry growers in Australia will have a local berry Industry Development Officer (IDO) while separate specialisations are incorporated into the project to support the range of extension and communication needs of the different industries within berries. The project will leverage off the existing strong relationships the individual IDOs have within the regions but place their activities within an overarching framework linked to the main communication platforms including a quarterly journal, monthly e-newsletters and an effective website which will become a hub for the project resources.

It is important to note that all berry growers should have more and better extension than in previous projects due to the backroom efficiencies of a joint approach.

Whilst the project will contribute to the realisation of all of the objectives within the relevant Strategic Investment Plans, it most directly relates to:

  • Strawberry SIP : Greater skills, capacity and knowledge in the industry.
  • Raspberry and Blackberry SIP: By 2021, at least 90 per cent of growers and other firms involved in raspberry and blackberry value chains will be directly engaged with and value national industry services.
  • Blueberry: By 2022, there will be strong engagement and communication with blueberry growers and industry stakeholders.

Despite significant cross-over, it should also be recognised that each industry is quite different in structure.

The strawberry industry is characterised by a large number of traditional family farms who have operated over a number of generations whereas both the Rubus and blueberry industries are relatively ‘new’ and dominated by some key corporate grower structures. These differences will be acknowledged and managed within the extension and communications program so all growers in all sectors have the opportunity to benefit from the investment of growers’ levy into research and development.

With many of the priority issues common between industries, the benefits of looking at a collaborative berry communications and extension program are significant and able to realise efficiencies in expenditure and capitalise on the range of available expertise.

Berries Australia was established as a joint venture between Strawberries Australia Inc., Raspberries and Blackberries Australia Inc. and the Australian Blueberry Growers’ Association Inc. in November 2018 in recognition of the commonalities between the four major berry industries. Enhancing the adoption of innovation and technology across the whole berry industry requires a flexible yet robust communications and extension approach which can adapt to meet the needs of the different growing communities while at the same time is grounded in best practice extension methodology and technical competence.

The two main components of this program will be a communications program, and an extension program supported by a network of industry development officers. Bringing these two components under the management of Berries Australia will provide for consistent oversight, strong industry linkages and clear messaging through all communication pathways. It will also enable better information sharing across industries and peer-to-peer learning opportunities.