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Key sustainability issues identified for Australian horticulture

Publication date: 22 May 2020

NEW RESEARCH for Hort Innovation has identified the sustainability topics that are most important to people interested in Australian horticulture, from growers through to consumers and communities.

Having ethical and resilient practices, supporting healthy landscapes and meeting the challenges of climate concerns all top the list, which is explored in the full report, What is important to Australian horticulture’s stakeholders?, available here.

The work and its findings are the foundation for the development of the Horticulture Sustainability Framework, said Hort Innovation’s General Manager of Data & Extension, Dr Anthony Kachenko. When completed, the framework is going to be a tool to help the horticulture sector better communicate its sustainable, ethical and safe farming practice stories with stakeholders, ranging from shoppers to investors.

“For the initial research, we investigated the topics that matter most to those involved in and those interested in the sector,” Dr Kachenko said. “We worked through documents from stakeholders across our supply chain, and invited comment through an online survey.”

This identified 21 important topics across six themes: ‘Vibrant, ethical, resilient businesses and employment’; ‘Nutritious, quality, safe food’; ‘Healthy landscapes’; ‘Thriving communities’; ‘Careful use of inputs’; and ‘Climate and energy’. These are all unpacked in the full report.

Importantly, the research shows that topics important to horticulture’s external stakeholders are very similar to those that the horticulture sector itself most cares about.

“This work indicates there is huge potential for the horticulture sector to communicate with these external stakeholders to develop a shared understanding of these topics and how they are being managed,” said Dr Kachenko. “They include ‘people’ based topics such as ethical labour and fair work conditions, ‘planet’ issues such as water use and the health of waterways, ‘produce’ factors such the production of safe, nutritious and high-quality food, and ‘performance’ areas such as protecting biodiversity and adapting to climate variability.”

Ingrid Roth of Roth Rural, who is a grower herself, is leading drafting of the Framework on behalf of Hort Innovation.

“Australian horticulture has a great story to tell and a great opportunity to tell it both collectively and individually,” she said. “This research has helped us to understand what is most important to stakeholders. We can now focus on looking at our sector’s performance in those key areas, and how we can move on and use this.”

Dr Kachenko added that establishing meaningful benchmarks will allow the horticulture sector to measure progress over time. “Our Australian horticulture industries have said we need to commit to a sustainability journey. Our next step is to work with them to set sustainability goals and measures – both to demonstrate commitment to sustainability and to prioritise future actions.”

The Framework team is now beginning further work with horticulture’s peak industry bodies, growers and other participants to prioritise key aspects of the tool.

FOR MORE on the Horticulture Sustainability Framework, read our background article from late 2019 here.