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South-East QLD set to become the food bowl of Asia

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South-East QLD set to become the food bowl of Asia article image

With increasing global demand for Australian agriculture produce and food products, there has never been a more exciting time for Australia’s agriculture industry.

Asia’s insatiable appetite for high quality produce has delivered unprecedented opportunities for Australian growers – right at their doorstep.

Asia’s affluent middle-class population is expected to rise six-fold to 3.5 billion people by 2030.

These potential customers are seeking high quality, safe and reliable foods from trusted sources.

With a strong track-record in clean and green food production, Australia is well positioned to deliver the safe, high-quality food products that the growing Asian middle-class population demands. This creates a new and emerging market for local food producers.

Australia now exports more than 70 percent of its agricultural production. Farm businesses generate $48 billion annually, with value-adding and processing increasing the value of this production to over $155 billion.

In Queensland alone, the agricultural industry is worth $14.7 billion, comprising of $11.6 billion at the farm gate and $3 billion of value-added products.

Extensive range of produce

Queensland’s south-east region is particularly well-placed to take advantage of Asia’s growing demand for fresh produce.

The region is the richest and most diversified home to an extensive range of agricultural commodities including grain, beef, cotton, eggs and horticulture.

Toowoomba and its surrounding regions which include the Maranoa, Western Downs, Southern Downs, Goondiwindi, Burnett and Moree regions, has become a food producing powerhouse for Australia.

One of Australia’s largest inland regional cities, Toowoomba is located only an hour and a half from Brisbane.

It’s the commercial and economic hub of the Darling Downs – a service centre for the resource-rich Surat Basin.

The city is fast becoming Australia’s leading inland transport and logistics hub to unlock global export opportunities for food manufacturers and producers.

Unprecedented investment

In recent years Toowoomba has experienced unprecedented private and government investment for major billion dollar infrastructure projects that will improve access to road, rail, air and port facilities.

Developments include the internationally-capable Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport, the Second Range Crossing, and the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail project.

The development of major infrastructure has been complemented by the creation of over 2,000ha of commercial industrial land, with prime frontage to the Toowoomba Second Range crossing and the anticipated Inland Rail Project routes.

Food Leaders Australia (FLA) has been a driving force behind the growth of the region’s booming agricultural sector.

Established in 2012, this progressive not-for-private organisation has helped to build a strong agriculture supply chain in the region with thriving professional services, machinery and technology, marketing and selling centres.

Driving collaboration

The region also boasts state-of-the-art processing and packing facilities as well as production input businesses.

The FLA’s main aim is to identify global opportunities for local producers and to assist Australian-based and operated businesses to be export-ready.

Also, the FLA provides an innovative platform for local businesses and industry to partner with researchers in developing new products and target new markets.

Through close collaborations with research facilities, including the University of Southern Queensland’s Institute for Agriculture and the Environment, the FLA is focussed on developing solutions for a sustainable and profitable future for the rural sector.

“By collaborating together, we have the opportunity to place Australia as the pre-eminent exporter of innovative ‘value added’ food products and ingredients,” says FLA general manager Bruce McConnel.

Working in harmony

“Our producers, processors and professional service providers are all working in harmony to get product effectively and efficiently into Asia.

“With inland rail and a local airport we are in a great position to be the central point for food processing in Queensland.

“In the next five years you can expect to see a significant increase in the amount of perishable goods and high end processed goods leaving Toowoomba for Asian markets – that is the end goal.”

Leading food manufacturers based in Toowoomba source ingredients locally and produce an extensive range of value-added products. Value-added goods produced for domestic and international consumers include cakes, biscuits and desserts, ice cream, beef by-products, nuts and other fine foods.

Key agricultural outputs for this catchment include cotton, grain, beef, pork, poultry, eggs, dairy and fruit and vegetables and nuts.

Toowoomba houses one of the largest lettuce growers in the southern hemisphere.

And 80% of the avocadoes sold in Australia are grown in the Toowoomba region.

This natural food hub is expected to boom as demand from Asia increases.

Renowned product offering

“About 95% of all food consumed in Australia is grown in some way or another within our region,” says Mr McConnel.

“We our well-renowned in the depth of our product offering – and in a really strong position to service the Asian market.”

With offices in Toowoomba, Shanghai and Beijing, the FLA now has more than 550 members – mainly SMEs ranging from start-ups to established producers and suppliers.

About 10% of those members are export ready and set to take advantage of the global opportunities that lie ahead.

New airport has been a game changer

Wellcamp Airport, which opened in 2014 to provide cargo services for producers in southern Queensland, holds the key to future for exporters, says Mr McConnel.

“It’s been a game changer for us in terms of transport and freight services coming from Toowoomba,” he says.

The privately-owned airport, located about 150km southwest of Brisbane, offers producers one direct Cathay Pacific Freight flight into Hong Kong every week.

The new airport is fast becoming a major airfreight hub for Australian exports to Southeast Asia.

“Our aim is to have a daily freight service by 2020,” says Mr McConnel.

“This would open the door to more perishables being sent to Asian markets.”

Queensland’s annual perishables output, is currently valued at almost US$500 million.

South West Queensland already produces around a third of Queensland’s agricultural output, and maximizing export opportunities for the industry is critical to future growth.

Dairy industry set to prosper

Queensland’s dairy industry is one sector that would benefit greatly from daily flights, says Mr McConnel.

Toowoomba makes up 22% of Queensland’s total dairy herd and in 2012-2013 the local region produced 108 million litres of milk.

“Eventually we hope to take daily services of fresh milk into Asia.”

Wellcamp is also becoming a well-utilised passenger terminal, with several daily passenger services scheduled.

Passengers can now fly direct to Sydney, Melbourne, Cairns and Townsville.

Mr McConnel says negotiations are now being held with other freight forwarders with a view to establishing regular freight services into Asia.

Special program for exporters

The FLA also runs a series of programs to assist local business.

This includes the Emerging Exporters Program – a 12-month course covering all aspects of exporting from financing, logistics and documentation.

The FLA also organises regular trade delegations to key Asian commercial centres to match suppliers with local buyers.

Last year, the FLA hosted Australia’s largest ever private trade delegation to China.

More than 200 delegates, including Queensland state ministers, agricultural producers and exporters visited Shanghai to strengthen trade relations between Australia and China.

Industries represented on the AccessChina trip include health, aged care, agriculture, education, manufacturing and tourism.

The FLA also conducts a yearly innovation start-up conference called 400M to assist new players in finding commercial partners both locally and internationally.

And to strengthen the region’s supply chain even further, the FLA is investing significantly in R&D.

New technology to play a major role

New technology – including Blockchain to help improve traceability – will play a major role in future operations.

“We are now looking at more significant investment in digital technology and data collection,” Mr McConnel explains.

“That data will be used for traceability and to strengthen consumer confidence.”

A new data centre is currently being established at Toowoomba to service the region.

The pulse centre will collect data from all agricultural sectors from production through to food processing.

“Toowoomba is in a very unique position,” says Mr McConnel.

“There is a really optimistic, innovative vibe and culture in the town – business is growing at an exceptional rate.

“And government and the private sector is play their part in that growth.

“It’s an exciting time for the region.”

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