05 Jun 2018

Australia’s ‘window’ into the future

A nation of quick adopters, advanced technology and a move towards ‘veggie centric’ diets is helping to combat the worldwide challenge of stagnant vegetable consumption – but in Australia we still have work to do, according to Rijk Zwaan’s Steven Roberts at the International Seed Federation conference.

More than 1,200 seed industry professionals have gathered to discuss the global issues facing the industry at the 2018 International Seed Federation (ISF) World Seed Congress in Brisbane from June 2 – 7. 

Presenting at the conference on behalf of the Australian Seed Federation, Rijk Zwaan Australia’s Managing Director, Steven Roberts, highlighted the country’s unique vegetable sector and climate, and contribution to the world’s seed supply.

“Australia’s vegetable sector is diverse and spread over a large geographic area, comprising people from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds,” Steven said. 

“Our position in the Southern hemisphere means we have the capacity to be a reliable counter season supplier of fresh vegetables and vegetable seeds for many of the world’s 7.6 billion people. The added value to speeding up breeding programs is significant.”

Australia’s vegetable growers produce a wide range of crops, with the largest crops grown from seed including tomatoes, carrots, onions and leafy crops. More than 90 percent of the vegetables available in Australia are home grown, and almost all of the vegetable seeds grown in Australia are imported.

Steven said while Australia is one of the oldest countries on earth, it is also new in the world and can respond rapidly to change, offering a unique “window” into the future. Technological advances and high-tech production are already changing the Australian landscape.

“Australia is producing high quality fresh produce through some of the most advanced hi-tech glasshouse production in the world and this sector is expanding,” Steven said.

“The mechanisation of vegetable growing has reduced labour costs and improved productivity. Technology has improved fresh vegetable shelf life, enabling fresh vegetables to be shipped to a larger number of destinations – including Asia.”

Australia is also seeing positive changes towards increased vegetable consumption, such as the rise of snacking vegetables and strong trend in vegetarian dining. Australia is also the third fastest growing vegan market in the world.

“We’re in a good space as consumers are increasingly considering sustainability, the environment and health, and this naturally leads to eating more vegetables.”

While these trends are positive, Steven also cited the Australia Bureau of Statistics about Australian eating habits: less than 7% of Australians meet their daily vegetable intake requirements.

“We all know that getting the world’s population to eat, and to enjoy eating more vegetables must remain one of our biggest challenges,” he said.

“I believe our sector needs to get behind initiatives that can help create positive long-term cultural and behavioural change in our society. It’s all about creating a healthy future for everyone.” 

Photo credit: The University of Sydney’s Australian Centre for Field Robotics. The 'RIPPA' robot is capable of finding and destroying weeds at high speed.