15 March 2024

ACC 2024: New event unlocks added value

The inaugural Australian Citrus Congress provided the insights and impetus to shape a profitable future for the Australian citrus sector.

Over 420 industry members converged on the Novotel Sunshine Coast Resort for the three-day event (5-7 March 2024), which included a main conference program, tradeshow-style exhibition, gala dinner and biosecurity symposium.

“We were very pleased with the number of registered delegates,” said Nathan Hancock, CEO of event organiser Citrus Australia.

“Particularly pleasing was the strong contingent of citrus growers that took time to step off their orchards and travel to the Sunshine Coast. By investing in attending, these growers invested in a profitable future for their businesses and the industry as a whole.”

Insights aplenty

The main conference program (6-7 March) provided delegates with the opportunity to hear from experts across the global citrus industry, and beyond.

In the opening keynote session, agricultural finance expert Patrick Vizzone provided a fascinating look at how the changing geopolitical landscape is shaping global economies.

Based on current forecasts, Vizzone told delegates that the Australian Dollar was likely to strengthen against both the US Dollar and the Chinese Yuan over 2025 and 2026, resulting in greater price competition and lower imported input costs for Australian suppliers.

Vizzone said higher incomes would also continue to drive increased demand for premium food products in key Asian markets, including China.

The attention turned to the consumer landscape in keynote session two, where food and nutrition scientist Emma Beckett of FOODiQ Global suggested a new narrative was required for communicating the health benefits of citrus – one that moved beyond the notion of oranges and mandarins being good sources of Vitamin C.

Beckett proposed a new paradigm that highlights the systemic health benefits of citrus, positioning the category as an “affordable superfood” that’s accessible and nutrient rich.

A keynote session dedicated to international trade opportunities and challenges provided a deep dive into the industry’s export markets, both established and emerging. Citrus Australia’s General Manager – Market Development, David Daniels, led the discussion with a thought-provoking presentation on the long-term viability and volatility of some of these markets.

This was followed by a presentation from the Port of Melbourne’s Marion Kloos, who examined global forces influencing shipping patterns and what they mean for Australian suppliers. Kloos noted a trend towards consolidated services out of the Port of Melbourne, along with a move towards larger refer vessels.

Delegates also heard about the impact Huanglongbing (HLB) disease has had on the global orange juice market. In an on-stage interview with Citrus Australia’s Olivia Tait, Grove Juice’s Managing Director, Greg Quinn, reflected on some new-found opportunities for Australian growers and juice producers.

Breakout sessions were interspersed between the keynote presentations. The breakout sessions focused on the areas of production, varieties, technology and postharvest/packaging, providing delegates with practical information and take-home learnings relevant to their respective areas of business.

“We worked meticulously to design a conference program that would help drive profitable outcomes for all delegates,” said Hancock.

“Businesses across the supply chain had the opportunity to learn something new or make a connection that will change the way they operate.”

Building closer connections

A tradeshow-style exhibition ran alongside the conference program on 6-7 March.

More than 25 companies from across the citrus supply chain showcased their products and services on the exhibition floor, providing delegates with the opportunity to meet new and existing suppliers and clients.

Networking wasn’t confined to daylight hours, thanks to a vibrant social program.

The Congress’ official welcome function, sponsored by Costa, provided a fun, casual environment to kickstart the event on the evening of 5 March. Many delegates chose to throw on their best Hawaiian attire for the tropical-themed event.

A twilight cocktail hour on 6 March, sponsored by US-based Wonderful Citrus, was the perfect precursor to the Congress’ gala dinner.

“Connection was a key pillar of the event, so we placed a strong emphasis on creating an environment that allowed delegates to catch up with old friends and forge new relationships,” said Hancock.

Celebrating industry leaders

The gala dinner, sponsored by E.E. Muir & Sons, also recognised outstanding achievements and contributions made by members of the Australian citrus industry through the presentation of Citrus Australia’s Annual Awards.

The prestigious Hall of Fame Award was presented to recently retired Queensland grower Nick Ulcoq, along with husband-and-wife team Greg and Sue Chislett of Chislett Farms.

Ulcoq played a significant role in the response to the citrus canker outbreak in Emerald in 2004. He was also a leading hand in the successful transition from the Australian Citrus Growers model to the current format of Citrus Australia.

Greg and Sue Chislett’s interest in budwood and varietal development has turned a small, second-generation orchard into a thriving third-generation citrus operation, which includes a highly successful container nursery business.

Malcolm Smith of the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QDAF) took home the Service to Industry Award, acknowledging his tireless work as one of the world’s leading citrus breeders.

Allen Jenkin of Ironbark Citrus was presented with the Value Chain Innovator Award, recognising, amongst other achievements, his 15-year varietal development journey with the Royal Honey Murcott mandarin.

Ben Knispel won the Emerging Leader Award, recognising his role in the evolution of his family’s multi-generational business, Nippy’s Waikerie Producers.

“This year’s award recipients epitomise the values and characteristics that make our industry a world leader – whether that be through their dedicated service, eye for detail or willingness to innovate,” Hancock said. “Congratulations to all our winners – it’s recognition well deserved.”

Seeing innovation in action

Earlier in the week, over 70 delegates took the opportunity to take part in a pre-event study tour of the Bundaberg region.

The tour included stops at QDAF’S Bundaberg Research Facility, where Smith and his team showcased varieties emerging from the levy-funded Australian Cirtus Breeding Program.

At the research facility, tour participants also saw an autonomous tractor demonstration from event partner AME Group.

Other stops on the tour included Carter & Spencer’s Spencer Ranch citrus orchard, where delegates saw blackspot control trials being conducted by QDAF, and Nutrano’s Abbotsleigh Farm, where delegates visited trial sites and inspected TOMRA grading equipment as part of a packhouse tour.

Safeguarding our shores

Citrus Australia’s inaugural Biosecurity Symposium was held at the Novotel Sunshine Coast Resort on 5 March.

Over 170 delegates took the opportunity to hear from world-leading researchers and plant health experts, who shared their knowledge on the risks that exotic pests and diseases pose to Australian citrus business.

The event had a core focus on Huanglongbing (HLB) disease, along with its vector the Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP).

“While many of the delegates were alarmed by the content of these talks due to the significant risks posed by HLB and ACP, we were able to balance that out by showing how far we have come in the preparedness and protection of our industry, acknowledging we still have work to do,” said Hancock.

Exceeding expectations

Reflecting on the near week-long program, Hancock said the event had been a huge success.

“The inaugural Australian Citrus Congress was truly a world class event focused on all things citrus.

“Framed through the theme of ‘Driving Profitability – Research, Connection, Direction’ the event touched every point in the citrus value chain and provided delegates with the knowledge and networks to grow their businesses.

“We hope these insights and connections result in actions that increase returns to Australian citrus growers and industry service providers for years to come.”

Citrus Australia thanks its Australian Citrus Congress Event Partners, led by Principal Partner edp Australia and Principal R&D Partner Hort Innovation, along with all exhibitors, speakers and delegates.
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