Greenhouse growers in the U.S. are not alone in their struggle and commitment to build and support the next generation of horticulture industry leaders. There is also a major initiative taking place in Australia that is designed to ignite a new crop of growers, breeders, and researchers.
In the face of an aging horticultural industry and a fast-moving technological landscape, Horticulture Innovation Australia (Hort Innovation) recently launched its largest industry recruitment and leadership initiative yet.
The organization will soon be introducing a series of projects with partners — such as research institutions, government agencies, and international and commercial enterprises — who have co-invested in a dedicated industry Leadership Fund.
Hort Innovation Chief Executive John Lloyd said the fund will be used to identify and build future industry leaders at all stages of their career through investment in a host of new initiatives.
“This new Leadership Fund will provide opportunities for horticulture professionals, at all stages of their careers, to propel themselves up. It will also provide significant resources to emphasize that horticulture is a rewarding and creative industry to join,” Lloyd says.
Lloyd notes the industry has never been so diverse and exciting. A study commissioned by Hort Innovation last year suggested the industry outperforms the average business in Australia when it comes to innovation — with almost 80% of horticultural producers reporting some form of innovation, whether it was new to the farm or new to the industry.
“Never before have we seen this level of innovation in the horticulture industry,” Lloyd says. “We are using drones and robotic technology to increase farm efficiencies, we are combating pests with groundbreaking science, and we are breeding new varieties.”
The study, which was conducted by the University of Queensland, also showed 72% of growers in the country are beyond age 50.
“We want to attract the best and the brightest people from a range of disciplines to careers in horticulture,” Lloyd says. “However, with increasing urbanization, young people do not always view horticulture as a viable career option because they are not exposed to it — and they are missing out.”
Lloyd says the fund aims to turn that around.
“There is so much passion and talent among those young people that are getting exposure to the industry. For example, a Sydney agricultural school student recently developed biodegradable plastic out of pistachio nut shells,” he says.
“This Leadership Fund will give emerging generations of growers and agriscientists the resources to realize their ideas for the benefit of the industry.”
The first wave of Leadership Fund program announcements will take place in the coming weeks.