Reflecting on the path to sustainability of the Australian Ginger Industry

21.09.20

Big shoes to fill is how insiders describe the contribution of Dr Mike Smith and Jason Keating to the AgriFutures Ginger Advisory Panel and the Australian ginger industry more broadly.

On retiring from the Advisory Panel, both men say they are optimistic about what the future holds for an industry that has come full circle and is now flourishing as a levied industry despite drought, disease, and a global pandemic.

Dr Mike Smith’s decades of service to the ginger industry

In October 2020, Dr Mike Smith will retire from the AgriFutures Ginger Program Advisory Panel after six years. He’s also recently retired from working for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (Queensland) after 35 years, the majority of which has been focused on researching ginger.

Chair of the Ginger Advisory Panel, Nicole Christodoulou described Mike as a tremendous asset to the industry and his shoes are big ones to fill.

“His knowledge and understanding of ginger in Australia have been built over many years and while he will no longer have an official role in the Program he will still be a valued member of the industry and the AgriFutures Australia community,” said Nicole.

Dr Smith said his time on the Advisory Panel had been extremely rewarding.

“There are some real characters in this industry and we’ve certainly seen some ups and downs over the years. It’s been great to watch the ginger industry overcome a number of challenges and we’ve forged a good path to profitability and sustainability.”

Through his research Dr Smith helped to develop new tissue culture methods to provide ginger growers with clean seed, and helped develop biosecurity measures to combat a devastating soil borne disease Pythium Soft Rot, which brought the industry to its knees in the mid-2000s.

Also stepping down after two terms is Jason Keating

Jason Keating, Manager Agribusiness Development, Southern Region – Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (Queensland), served his first term on the Ginger Program Advisory Panel when the statutory RD&E levy was introduced in 2010. After a break he has served an additional two consecutive terms and will step down in October 2020.

Advisory Panel Chair, Nicole Christodoulou said Mr Keating’s knowledge and experience had enabled the Advisory Panel to make industry focused recommendations taking the industry to the next level.

 

(Left to Right) Jason Keating, Nicole Christodoulou, Shane Templeton and Dr Mike Smith.

Mr Keating said it has been a privilege to work with AgriFutures Australia and the ginger industry. And like Dr Smith his highlight has been working with the growers.

“It’s been really pleasing to see their businesses grow and how they’ve come to understand the value of the levy over time.”

“When the disease Pythium Soft Rot was ravaging our crop, AgriFutures Australia walked alongside us to manage the disease. As an industry we were able to develop solutions that included clean seed and biosecurity and now the industry is flourishing.”

Robust discussions with the industry’s best interests at heart

Mr Keating said, “We certainly have our robust discussions on the Advisory Panel, and it’s because we really care. We all want the ginger industry to move forward.”

“The gross value of Australia’s ginger production has quadrupled over the past 12 years. We’re demonstrating the health benefits of our product and consumers are really responding.”

Mr Keating said when growers tell him the research is making them better farmers, he knows it’s been worthwhile. “It’s really been an honour to be a part of the Advisory Panel and a very rewarding experience. There are great people involved and we’ve got great support from AgriFutures Australia so I’m leaving the Advisory Panel with full confidence in what comes next for the Program.”

Some advice for future Advisory Panel members

Mr Keating said, “Be open-minded. Being on the Advisory Panel is a growth opportunity. No idea is a bad idea. Even projects that seem a bit ‘out there’ at first can deliver for the industry over time and make it more competitive in future.”

“It’s a strong partnership between growers, researchers and AgriFutures Australia. Ginger might be small industry compared to the scale of some others in Australia but thanks to the Advisory Panel the value of what is achieved – per dollar invested via the levy – is huge.”

Ms Christodoulou has been on the panel for three years and in the position of Chair for over 18 months. She says it is both interesting and rewarding to be involved. “At times it is challenging, but it is great to see research projects adopted by industry and delivering benefits on-farm.”

“The best thing about the Ginger Advisory Panel is that everyone puts the industry first. But on a personal level, you get to see more clearly the value of the research and you have a say in how the levy is spent. I can understand better than ever now how the research brings real benefits in things like reducing production costs or increasing yield.”

Returning to Dr Smith, his advice is that anyone who is interested in ginger could really help drive the industry forward by getting involved in the Advisory Panel. “It’s your job to make sure the levy is spent wisely, and the Advisory Panel needs a mix of skills, expertise and experience in its members to ensure due diligence and fresh perspectives. I’d certainly encourage people to apply.”