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Hort Innovation is a longstanding AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship sponsor, and their commitment to the next generation of leaders in agriculture has never been more pertinent.
Hort Innovation is the horticulture industry’s research and development corporation, and their main mission is to create value for horticulture growers and those working across the 37 industries in the horticulture supply chain.
“Our industries range from bananas, macadamias and vegetables to the turf and nursery industries, which people often don’t realise fall within our remit,” says Bianca Cairns, R&D Manager at Hort Innovation.
“Each year, we invest more than $120 million in R&D, marketing and trade programs to improve the productivity, farm gate profitability and global competitiveness of specific industries, and Australian horticulture as a whole.”
Part of this is their investment in capacity through our AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship program.
Bianca explains, “As every industry is experiencing at the moment, it’s hard to get hold of good labour, so we are looking for ways to source it and straight out of the university gates is a good way to do it.
“We hope that by showcasing horticulture to university students, it might entice them to graduate and come and work in our industries.”
That’s exactly the feedback Horizon Scholar, Lilly Rehbein has from her experience so far.
“The highlight of being sponsored by Hort Innovation was attending the Hort Connections conference. I got to hear about everything from robots picking apples in Victoria, to the new cold chain sensors, which are increasing the likelihood of sustained quality produce,” Lilly recalls.
And with a production value of over $15 billion and a workforce of over 60,000 people, there’s certainly no shortage of opportunities in Australian horticulture.
“So, in terms of being an industry that’s progressing and growing, and going to have future opportunities for careers, horticulture is leading the charge,” Bianca says.
It’s hard to pinpoint specific skills that will be needed to drive an industry as diverse as horticulture into the future, but Bianca says technology integration and market awareness will have a big part to play.
“With 37 industries, the skills and careers we need in horticulture are really broad. There’s a big difference between working on a hydroponic strawberry farm and running a 25-year-old macadamia orchard with ten-metre-high trees.
“Speaking generally about what emerging skills we’ll need, the integration of digital systems is huge. Producers are getting more tools and technologies that generate data, so a big issue going forward will be how do we make those systems talk to each other, make sense of the data generated and use it to make better business decisions?
Related: The farmer tech-stack
With new technologies like remote sensing and the use of satellites, Bianca says farmers are needing to be a lot savvier when it comes to technology.
Lilly agrees and says that technology has the potential to transform the horticultural landscape moving forward.
“I love the number of ways that drones can be used in horticulture. Technology is vital in making sure growers can get their produce into the consumers hands quicker, and at a higher quality.
One technology project funded by Hort Innovation is iMapPESTS, which is designed to put actionable information into the hands of Australia’s primary producers to enhance on-farm pest management decision-making.
It all starts with mobile surveillance units, ‘Sentinels’, with specialised trapping technology to monitor the presence of high-priority pests and diseases. These samples then go through pest and disease diagnostics, data collection, communication and extension and ultimately, enhanced pest management on farm.
According to Bianca, the second focus area going forward is understanding the consumer.
“Wherever you sit in the supply chain, it’s important you understand your consumer, and that means being across emerging trends and issues such a demand for increased sustainability, changing produce use patterns and what motivates people to purchase your product,” says Bianca.
Hort Innovation is getting to know their consumers through their project, Genetics of fruit sensory preferences, which is exploring purchasing and consumption patterns, and the part that fruit sensory qualities such as taste, smell, look and feel, play in these behaviours.
“This is a really interesting project because this information will help our industry breeding programs to improve varieties for both the producer and consumer,” Bianca explains.
Hort Connections is being held from 6-8 June 2022. Find out more below!