Australia: Supermarket's demand hot topic during PCA Conference

What supermarkets want from produce was a hot topic at the Protected Cropping Australia conference this week. Coles category manager for soft vegetables Tim Walsh said customers had identified freshness as being "quality that lasts at home". Mr Walsh said protected cropping represented risk mitigation, quality and consistency benefits for supermarkets and consumers. "In today's agricultural landscape, the biggest risk to a category is non-supply," Mr Walsh said.

"We can make every plan in the world, however, if there is a weakness in supply, leading to non-supply, poor availability and empty shelves and ultimately disappointed customers, then the plan has been a complete failure."

"If the customer is not able to purchase the product they want, at the time they want it, then the risk is that the customer will simply drop their basket and leave empty-handed."

Mr Walsh said environmental factors had affected five tomato-growing regions in Australia in the past two years alone, adding weight to the benefit of protected cropping.

"Where protected cropping is highly important is where it provides an alternative to broadacre farming," he said.

"The protected environment, whilst it faces its own pressures from mother nature, provides a safer environment than outdoor farming." "Protected cropping, due to the unique nature of the growing conditions as they deliver good quality and freshness every time."

Conference delegates heard from greenhouse experts from around the world.

Professor Jurgen Kleinwachter from Germany spoke about the application of light and optics in advancing greenhouse temperature and light control.

NAB senior economist Dave de Garis spoke about Australia's economic future and said the dollar had hit a wall on its way down from US1.05 cents to 90 cents.

"It might come back up to 93 or 94 (cents) in the next few months," he said.

University of Melbourne honorary fellow Geoff Connellan spoke about the 29th International Horticultural Congress, which is held every four years, and will take place at Brisbane in August next year.

Mr Connellan said about 30 protected cropping institutions from around the world were expected to be represented at the congress.

"It's the largest world event in horticulture and attracts 2,000 to 3,000 delegates and is a major event in the history of horticulture in Australia," Mr Connellan said.

"The last time this event was in Australia was in Sydney in 1974."

Mr Connellan encouraged growers to submit abstracts for the paper published in Acta Horticulture before the event next year.

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