How do Aussie veg producers stack up against the competition?

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Fresh Australian-grown vegies on display at Fruits of Life in Melbourne.
Fresh Australian-grown vegies on display at Fruits of Life in Melbourne.
Shawn Smith, Flickr CC

Australian vegetable growers face increasing competition, at home and abroad. In a bid to help our growers gain the edge in domestic and global markets, a recent study commissioned by Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited (HIA) analysed the regulations governing seven of our strongest competitors: the United States of America, Canada, New Zealand, China, Thailand, Peru and Mexico.

The study, helmed by Control Risks Australia, conducted extensive research into regulations supporting food safety, vegetable marketing, transportation and exports. Its aim was to pinpoint areas in which Australian regulations lag behind those of our key competitors and make recommendations that, if implemented by industry bodies and policymakers, could help boost the competitiveness of Australian vegie growers in domestic and global markets.

The research and analysis

The CRA researchers undertook a thorough analysis of the safety, marketing, transportation and export regulations governing vegetable producers, and their level of implementation, in Australia and each of the seven competitor nations.

The study assessed an array of parameters to ascertain the degree of regulation exerted by each of the countries in the four key areas of interest. The researchers employed a qualitative survey design to enable more insightful comparisons of the respective nations’ regulatory environments.

A ‘competitiveness matrix’ developed from the survey data allowed the researchers to assess and compare levels of regulatory support and enforcement effectiveness across each nation, along with the impacts of these regulations on the safety, marketing, transportation and export of vegetable products.               

The team analysed the resulting information to draw meaningful comparisons and evaluated potential areas for improvement.                                                                                                       

Vegetables on sale at Adelaide Central Markets.
Vegetables on sale at Adelaide Central Markets.
Lisa L, Flickr CC

Key findings

The HIA-CRA study, published in early 2016, yielded a number of significant findings.

• Australia has strong regulations in the areas of food safety and strong government support for vegetable marketing compared to those of China, Thailand, Peru and Mexico.

• Tighter controls on the safety of our vegetable products, coupled with government-backed marketing initiatives are pluses for Australian vegie producers, affording them a competitive edge over • vegetable products from these four countries.

• Australia is doing well in most areas relating to food safety and marketing support.

• In both these areas, our vegetable industry, we’re on a par with competing nations New Zealand, the United States and Canada, the study found.

• With respect to support and enforcement, the regulatory environment around food safety in primary production and food packaging is more advanced in the United States and Canada than it is in Australia.

• Both the US and Canada have guidelines to help growers avoid vegetable contamination during production and packaging. The study found that both nations also had better-developed infrastructure for food transportation.

• Regulatory support for vegetable exports was found to be more advanced in both China and Mexico than it is here.

• In contrast to the lack of regulation of vegetables grown for their domestic markets, China and Mexico were found to provide substantial support to vegetable exports. The study’s authors noted that in view of the much lower cost of production in these nations, Australia’s vegetable industry should seek to improve its food safety conditions, innovation capability and marketing support in order to boost the overall quality of its vegetable products.

Vegetable grower carries produce to market, Guizhou, China.
Vegetable grower carries produce to market, Guizhou, China.
Xiaobo Zhang/IFPRI, Flickr CC

Recommendations for future support of our vegetable industry

The HIA-CRA project team identified several gaps between current horticultural-industry support mechanisms in Australia and those provided by the governments of the competitor nations surveyed. On the basis of these, the study’s authors make a number of recommendations to the Australian vegetable industry pertaining to domestic and overseas markets.

Domestic market      

With respect to the domestic market for Australian vegetables, the study’s authors recommend that government and industry bodies:

Evaluate the effects of ‘buy local’ initiatives

The study found that the United States has a number of government-backed programs that support local agricultural products. While it has not been conclusively shown that these programs make an appreciable positive impact on the US economy, the study’s authors suggest that it might be worth exploring the potential outcomes and benefits of implementing similar programs Down Under. Such support has contributed to a large increase in farmers’ markets across America in recent years.

Make a greater investment in infrastructure

Australia ranked an unimpressive 35th in the World Economic Forum’s The Global Competitiveness Report 2014-15 – lower on the list than either the US and Canada.

Give further support to pest control

Australia’s favourable biosecurity status and tight regulations around imported produce give it the edge in global markets, but more is needed to ensure effective pest management and control systems if we wish to maintain this status and ensure access to lucrative export markets.

Support relevant industry innovation

If Australia is to stay competitive in the global market, innovation is essential to enable Australia’s agricultural sector to increase efficiency and sustainability while cutting labour and input costs.

Packaged vegetables in San Francisco supermarket.
Packaged vegetables in San Francisco supermarket.
Torbakhopper, Flickr CC

Export markets

To give Australian vegetable producers a better chance of securing profitable export markets, the report's authors recommend:

Enhanced support for food packaging safety

Compared to other competitor countries, in particular Canada and Thailand, Australian regulation with regard to vegetable product packaging safety is insufficiently developed and could be improved, with benefits for Aussie vegetable exporters. Although Australia has guidelines with regard to best agricultural practice, it has no legally binding food safety regulations that are specific to primary vegetable production. In this, it lags behind the United States, Canada and Peru.

Greater awareness of market trends on the part of Australian policymakers

The study’s authors advise Australian policymakers to keep abreast of market trends so that they can better determine how various approaches might impact key vegetable markets around the world.

Further research into burgeoning markets around the world

To help ensure the global competitiveness of Australia’s vegetable sector into the future, the study’s authors recommend that industry and government bodies undertake further research into rapidly emerging markets for vegetable products, including those in China, Peru and Mexico, to track their advancement and/or regression in coming years.

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