The Australian vegetable industry is an economic powerhouse. In 2019-2020, the industry produced 3.7 million tonnes of vegetables, valued at over $4.8 billion. Our veggie farmers are a vital part of the Australian lifestyle.

Our consumers agree that our fresh veggies are the best in the world, with the average consumer chomping down almost 87 kilograms of vegetables a year. 99 per cent of the vegetables consumed in Australia are grown here.

Never has the role of Australian veggie producers and our farmers been more important or appreciated by the Australian public than during the last two years of a global pandemic.

Through the pandemic, the Australian Government has recognised the critical importance of the agriculture and horticulture sectors to our rural, regional, and national economies. We have worked hard to ensure that farmers can continue to provide agricultural product and keep our consumer both here and overseas supplied, even as other parts of the economy were placed on ice.

Through our national Delivering Ag2030 plan, the Australian Government has committed to support the agriculture industry’s goal of growing to $100 billion in farmgate production by 2030. Under the plan we are investing in actions across seven themes – Trade and Exports, Biosecurity, Stewardship, Supply Chains, Water and Infrastructure, Innovation and Research, and Human Capital – to support the agricultural industry to achieve its goal.

I’m pleased to see that we are on the way with a forecast record harvest in 2021-22, worth $73 billion. This is underpinned by the hard work and ingenuity of farmers, and the strong growing conditions and prices.

I am also pleased that in 2021 the Australian Government was able to deliver on the introduction of the Australian Agriculture Worker Visa – the Ag Visa. This is the biggest structural reform to agricultural work in this country’s history.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud with AUSVEG Deputy Chair Belinda Adams at Hort Connections 2021, which was held in June at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. Photography by Andrew Beveridge.

While our farmers and industries have gone about their work keeping Australians and the world fed and clothed, they have done so under workforce constraints.

Not only will the Ag Visa give the agricultural industries the workers they have been so desperate for these past two years, but it will also give a permanent pathway to residency for those who come under this visa in the future.

It will provide a long-term, reliable workforce for our critical industries while solving one of regional Australia’s greatest challenges in recent history. This is going to bring the next generation of migrants to Australia who will grow our regions and grow our agricultural sector.

Access to workers underpins the future success of the industry. In this regard, I would like to acknowledge the role workers from the Pacific have played in our horticulture and agriculture sector more broadly through the pandemic. Workers from the Pacific have played an invaluable role in making sure our markets and supermarkets have been stocked.

Since we restarted the Pacific Labour Mobility Scheme in September 2020, we have seen over 12,000 workers arrive in Australia and we have committed to a further 12,500 arriving by March next year. We know that together with workers arriving under the Agriculture Visa they will be critical to the ongoing prosperity of vegetable producers and the farming sector into the future.

It was great to be able to address delegates at Hort Connections in Brisbane earlier this year and meet so many vegetable producers at the Trade Show. The horticulture industry is at the forefront of technologies and innovations, and I look forward to meeting with you at future Hort Connections conferences and other industry events.

2020 and 2021 have been challenging years for vegetable producers. But they have also been a period in which all Australian have found comfort and solace in the important service they have provided. I am confident that the industry has a positive future going forward, and like you look forward to a more open and safe Australia in 2022.