Harvesting the fruits of a $299m sector

A COMPREHENSIVE new report into horticulture production on the Southern Downs values the industry at an impressive $299.86 million annually.

Commissioned by the Southern Downs Regional Council's economic development unit, the report examined the trials and challenges facing more than 270 growers farming a total of 4210ha across the region.

Co-author of the report, Stanthorpe senior horticultural consultant Stephen Tancred said the up-to-date data was vital as governments and industry planned for the future.

"Accurate and current horticultural statistics are a vital tool for regional councils to plan, allocate resources and interact with state and federal agencies," Mr Tancred said.

"This report will also provide a resource for a whole range of agencies and consultants conducting future investigations into the region."

The Stanthorpe consultant worked on the report with Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry senior extension officer Clinton McGrath.

SDRC mayor Peter Blundell described the research as critical.

"This important report fills in some of the gaps in our knowledge and assists us to understand the important contribution the industry makes regionally and our strategic role in domestic food production," Cr Blundell said.

"Having this information will assist in our negotiations with state and federal government and will provide us with a strong basis for identifying opportunities for value adding and investment attraction."

While the report highlighted the economic value of horticulture at a wholesale level, it also emphasised the industry was labour intensive and required significant input costs. It also identified 277 horticultural producers, who farm 4210ha, with production dominated by vegetable growing, while orchards comprised 1446ha, with apples being the primary crop.

While grape production in the region has fallen from the 1960s, when the Granite Belt grew a sixth of Australia's table grapes, the ratio of table-to-wine grapes has reversed.

Speciality crops were also profiled in the report, with ground-breaking plantings like the medicinal weed, euphorbia peplus, now featuring among conventional horticulture.

For more on how specific crops contribute to our economy, see next week's Bush Tele.

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