Queensland horticulture producers travel to the desert to learn

While the Granite Belt is currently experiencing the region's worst drought in living memory, six Granite Belt Growers Association members, along with a representative from the Lockyer Valley Growers Association and DAF staff travelled to the UAE last week. The delegation exploring how innovation and technology can improve agricultural productivity and sustainability in marginal agricultural environments, conditions not dissimilar to the current situation in some regions of Queensland.

President of the Granite Belt Growers Association, Angus Ferrier said it’s a great opportunity for GBGA members to travel and learn about the work being undertaken in the UAE to address the challenges of ensuring water security and developing sustainable environments for agriculture.

The study trip was organised by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and funded by the CAAR program - Council for Australian-Arab Relations which supports projects that enhance Australia's economic, cultural and social relations with the Arab world. Participants were given the opportunity to explore options that address some of the challenges faced by Queensland producers, impacted by reduced water availability, climate extremes and in particular above-average temperatures.

The delegation spent the day with the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), the UAE’s agricultural research centre working towards achieving food security in marginal environments around the world. The ICBA has been charged with developing innovative research to address the challenges of ensuring water and food security, managing natural resources, climate change adaptation, crop productivity and diversification in marginal environments.

One of the highlights for the delegation was a visit to Elite Agro, a leading producer and distributor of fresh vegetables and fruit in the UAE, based in Abu Dhabi. Elite Agro is the largest producer of potatoes and pesticide-free vegetables in the UAE, including tomatoes, capsicums, eggplants, cucumbers, blueberries & figs in their state of the art greenhouse facility.

The delegation also visited several greenhouse facilities producing a range of fresh produce for the local market, including Gracie Farms, Emirates Hydroponics and Alfalfa farms. Producers in the UAE have developed a range of medium to high tech protective cropping structures and innovative agricultural production systems to adapt to the harsh desert environment.

With the UAE one of the largest re-export hubs in the world, handling an average of 15,000 tonnes of fresh produce daily, the delegation explored the Al Aweer Fruit & Vegetable Markets and Barakat distribution hub to gain a greater understanding of the local market and potential for export. The day also included a presentation from David O’Brien with a Food & Ag market briefing for the Middle East and visit to the leading retail stores Carrefour, Lulu’s, Choitrams, Spinneys, Al Maya and Waitrose. 

The study trip was well-received by all participants, Tim Sweet from Sweets Strawberry Runners said, “Very impressed, you couldn’t go on a trip like that and not take something away. Thanks to the Qld Department of Agriculture and GBGA for organising”. The Granite Belt Growers Association would also like to acknowledge Trade and Investment Qld and Austrade in the UAE for their assistance and time during the visit.

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