Input by growers at multiple stages is central to Hort Innovation’s management of vegetable, potato and onion levy investment.  

The levy system set up in many Australian primary production industries is one of the key drivers of research, development and marketing in those sectors. 

Australia’s horticultural levies have been around for some time now. The potato levy, for instance, was introduced in 1991, the onion levy in 1994, and the vegetable levy in 1996. 

The investment of those levies is overseen by Hort Innovation, the grower-owned, not-for-profit research and development corporation for Australian horticulture. Hort Innovation’s annual investment in the vegetable industry is close to $15 million, nearly $1.3 million for onions, and $1.1 million for fresh and processed potatoes. 

The primary production levy system that horticulture is part of is distinct to Australia, and Australian Grower Magazine spoke with Andrew Francey, Hort Innovation’s General Manager of Industry Service and Delivery, about how it gives Australia an edge against competitors on the international stage. 

What does Hort Innovation do? 

Andrew Francey of Hort Innovation
Andrew Francey of Hort Innovation.

We’re a grower owned organisation with 12,000 growers across 37 horticulture industries, and in the vegetable industry we cover around 4,000 growers nationally. 

Our role is to invest in research and development, marketing and trade to build a prosperous and sustainable future for growers. 

As an organisation, we’re focused on ensuring we invest wisely based on growers’ advice. Our key goal is growers’ sustainability into the future, which means financial sustainability as much as it does land and people.  

How does the agricultural levy system work? 

At the request of each primary production industry, and indeed each horticulture industry, the Commonwealth Government collects levies on agricultural products to facilitate industry investment in strategic activities. 

These levies are held and collected by the Commonwealth Government, and then entrusted to Hort Innovation for investment. 

Is there legislation underpinning that process? 

There is. Hort Innovation has a Statutory Funding Agreement with the Commonwealth. Our agreement outlines how we should conduct ourselves as a grower-owned body and sets expectations as to how we invest funds. 

Most importantly, the key underlying principle of the legislation is for us to gain advice from growers and for the advice to be representative across all growers. 

How does Hort Innovation manage those funds and determine where they should be spent? 

Talking to growers about where to spend their funds is a critical function within Hort Innovation. We do this in partnership with peak industry bodies like AUSVEG by bringing together growers to gain advice and develop five-year Strategic Investment Plans, and Annual Investment Plans that outline investment in projects which have been prioritised by growers. 

This tells us where to invest based on the needs of growers. 

How do you track that projects are running well? 

We have an internal team of R&D experts who manage each project to ensure they’re on track and hitting their milestones. 

Many projects are advised through a project reference group, which is made up of industry representatives and growers. Many also have midterm reviews which independently assess the project’s progress. 

The Commonwealth also undertook an independent performance review of Hort Innovation last year, which noted improvements being made by Hort Innovation, particularly in the area of grower consultation. 

What are some of the gains that you’ve seen in the vegetable, onion and potato industry as a result of levy investment? 

We’ve seen some great gains. An example is the Soil Wealth Program, which has been running now for the last seven years. The program’s success is evidenced by growers who have changed their practices over that time. With reducing tillage and introducing cover cropping, growers have seen increases in yield of 26 percent in some crops, lower labour and fuel costs, and better water holding and carbon capacity in their soils. 

That’s a good example of the right research invested in wisely, and over time showing real productivity and profitability benefit. They don’t all have to be large investments like that project, but they do have to be relevant investments, and investments to make a difference. 

A recent study by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) concluded that for every $1 spent in public agricultural research, nearly $8 is returned in benefit. 

How can growers get involved in the process? 

There are many ways that growers can be involved.  

A simple way to get involved is the VegNET program, which is delivered in partnership with AUSVEG. Each vegetable and onion region in Australia hosts VegNET workshops, demonstrations, trial farms and grower community meetings. Engaging with your local VegNET Regional Development Officer is a great way to get involved. 

You can also sign up to Hort Innovation communications on our website, or reach out to our dedicated Industry Service and Delivery Managers for vegetables, potatoes and onions, Mark Spees ( and Jason Hingston (