News Article

Ending 2019 on a high !

   Friday 20th December, 2019

Food & Fibre Gippsland is ending the year on a high with many milestones and results to show for the collaborative work undertaken in partnership with members, industry partners, researchers, educators and communities.

Whether it’s assisting job seekers of all ages find work and pursue career opportunities in the agrifood sector, providing support for small to medium businesses to explore their export potential, or simply facilitating new business connections and opportunities across supply chains, the nine months since the amalgamation of Agribusiness Gippsland and the East Gippsland Food Cluster to form Food & Fibre Gippsland, has been focused on engagement and action that contributes to long term increased prosperity in the region.

This is being achieved through a number of projects and programmes that have been independently identified in a consultative process as areas of need and/or opportunity.

The Gippsland Regional Agrifood Employment Programme (GRAEP) is funded by Jobs Victoria and the pre-employment support offered to job seekers, as well as ongoing mentoring once they are employed, plays a vital role in their successful transition into the workforce.

The participant focused approach, driven by GRAEP Manager Julie Tuhi and Liaison Officer Nicki Keddie continues to a deliver a win-win result for employees and employers, with 140 people supported in gaining sustained employment in 2019, bringing their total assisted placements to 400 since the programme was launched in 2017.

“Jobs change lives and having steady employment really is improving the overall well being of many Gippslanders, whilst also addressing workforce capacity building challenges for a wide range of our food and fibre businesses” said Acting CEO Dr Nicola Watts.

The Gippsland Connect Programme is supporting small to medium Gippsland food or fibre businesses who are currently exporting but would like to take it up a gear, or those who are ready to explore opportunities in export markets.

Programme Manager David Grimmond has already attracted 17 businesses who will receive mentoring, industry intelligence and market access support for the next two years.

They’ll also have ongoing support to build and evolve their individual export plans, designed to help navigate their way through the logistics and maximise the profitability of exporting.

“Gippsland Connect is a fantastic way for businesses to collaborate and learn from each other as they delve into the intricacies of exporting, or build more capacity for export in their business – and by working as a project group, they can explore opportunities and tackle challenges together“ said Dr Watts

To help change perceptions and grow knowledge of the breadth and depth of careers available in agriculture, the GIPPYAg project, facilitated by Food & Fibre Gippsland in partnership with CQUniversity Australia thanks to funding from the Victorian Government, has connected with over 1200 students in both primary and secondary schools all over the region.

Education Programme Manager Dr Amy Cosby has provided participants of all ages with fun and interactive experiences that clearly demonstrate the diversity of career paths available to students, as well as offering teachers professional development workshops to give them greater confidence to include food & fibre concepts into their lesson plans.

To further enhance that knowledge building, close to 150 students from Gippsland schools took part in a series of Industry Immersion days that involved visits to fruit and vegetable producers and dairy farmers, where the most common comment was “I didn’t know there was so much involved in farming”.

“For some time, there has been a skills shortage problem in the sector and there’s not a lot of awareness about what career options can be pursued in food & fibre, so the GIPPYAg project has been a big step in the right direction of opening the eyes of the next generation to what the possibilities are for a satisfying career in food production” said Dr Watts.

In partnership with the Latrobe Valley Authority, the Gippsland Smart Specialisation project continues to build positive momentum to support Gippsland enhance its competitiveness in the food and fibre sectors.

A selection of innovation driven projects have been identified for Gippsland, including;

  • craft malting to foster more connections between regional grain growers and a growing craft brewing industry,
  • a hi-tech vegetable processing hub that has the potential to create numerous value-add opportunities for the region’s horticulture sector, and
  • regional on-line trading platforms that could make Gippsland produce widely accessible, driving greater awareness of the quality and diversity in what is grown, manufactured and created in the region.

“Smart Specialisation is industry led where strategic business opportunities are identified and tested to build on to the assets of a region in the context of global value chains “said Dr Watts.

“With a significant proportion of Gippsland struggling in the ongoing drought conditions, the Smart Specialisation project comes at an important time, where industry has the opportunity to do business differently – and the appetite for change is definitely here and growing! “she said.

The VegNET Victoria Gippsland project continues to deliver benefit to the horticulture sector with research driven information shared with growers to help them grow their business. Bonnie Dawson joined the team as an Extension Support Officer to support VegNET Industry Development Officer Shayne Hyman.

The VegNET team are also working hard in the lead up to the East Gippsland Vegetable Innovation Days (EGVID) and the International Spinach conference to be held in Lindenow in May 2020 where F&FG is a key partner.

And a crucial element that has a dotted line to all of these initiatives is a project that is breaking new ground in the training and education space, through the development of an online gateway model, combining different training delivery methods to meet the needs of both industry and the diverse employee bases of Gippsland businesses.

Headed up by Dr Julian Hill, the project has secured a group of early adopter Gippsland food businesses, and one of the key elements they’re motivated by is the opportunity to reduce business transaction costs and improve productivity through better training delivery.

“F&FG’s increasingly strong relationships with Federation University and TAFE Gippsland are contributing greatly to regional innovation” said Dr Watts.

Food & Fibre Gippsland receives significant support from Food Innovation Australia Limited (FIAL), the national growth centre for the food & fibre sector, through its innovative pilot cluster programme.

“Adopting the principals of clustering and smart specialisation are continually enabling the region to explore different and more effective ways of working by responding to the needs and challenges of industry in partnership with researchers, government, educators and community “said Dr Watts.

“We are very lucky to be just one of four national clusters receiving this level of support and through collaboration and innovation, we are not only supporting our vital food and fibre sector, but also the wider Gippsland community “

Dr Watts praised the passion and commitment of the team and volunteer board, as well as the numerous organisations and businesses that Food & Fibre Gippsland collaborates with all over Gippsland, nationally and now globally.

“Everyone involved in Food & Fibre Gippsland share a strong sense of purpose and commitment to making a difference to the prosperity of the region through deep and genuine engagement with members, stakeholders, project partners, researchers and community – 2020 is going to be a great year“ Dr Watts concluded.