The Growing Edge - National Conference 2018

The biennial national conference headed to Australia’s apple isle, Tasmania and Wrest Point Hotel, the home of Australia’s first casino on the outskirts of Hobart. Over 200 delegates attended with representation from NGI’s across the whole of Australia, national office staff, allied industries and organisations who were taking part as exhibitors. It was great to see a strong contingent of NGIWA board representatives and members including state president Carole Fudge, state national board member Ross Hooper, Colin Groom, Kylie James, Tim Parker, Geoff Richards, Mark Tucek and state biosecurity Certification auditor, Steve Blyth.

Held over three days, day one focused on industry tours to production and retail sites within a few hour’s drive of Hobart, with days two and three turning the attention to formal proceedings in the large auditoriums at the hotel. Members split into two groups for the industry tours and both buses were packed for visits to some of Tasmania’s best green life providers. Growers enjoyed visits to Tibballs Wholesale Nursery, Granton Plants, HALS and Westland Nursery; and retailers were spoilt with tours of Harmony Garden Centre, Clennetts Mitre 10, Greenhill Nursery, Plants of Tasmania Nursery and Chandlers Nursery. Both tours came back with glowing reports although the visits to a cider farm and winery for lunch may have lifted the spirits.

On the Monday evening, delegates came together for the opening of the conference at the hotel’s waterfront conference facilities. Those attending then had the opportunity to walk through the exhibitor area whilst still admiring breathtaking views across the River Derwent of Mt Wellington and Hobart.

Days two and three focused on some fascinating, thought provoking and inspirational speeches from a variety of outstanding speakers. Speakers came from both Australia and internationally with key note speakers including Matt Evans (SBS’s Gourmet Farmer), Chris Beytes (Ball Publishing Florida), Angus Stewart (ABC Gardening Australia) and Mark McCrindle (Social Researcher) followed by inspirational speaker Chris Helder (Author of ‘Useful Belief’) and Paul de Gelder, an experienced navy diver who brought us all back to reality with his harrowing story of his shark attack in Sydney Harbour in February 2009.

The key message throughout the conference was innovation and collaboration and the importance to embrace change, made particularly clear during presentations by Louise Grimmer from the University of Tasmania who discussed the future of the retail world. She explained how 20 years ago shopping online was given a 1% chance of surviving. Figures now are estimated at 80% for public usage. Garden centres and nurseries are also faced with retail changes from not only competitors like the large DIY stores but smaller home style retailers who are moving into the green life phenomena. It’s time to think outside the box to make your business survive, was the message.

Of importance was NGIA CEO Peter Vaughan’s presentation, where he discussed the present status of NGIA and the national unity model. On hand was a panel made up of those involved in the structural review committee reports and who had also visited the states as part of the town hall information sessions for members back in 2016. There is no doubt change is needed but with issues surrounding the financial modelling of the unity model and how it might be viable, it was evident through the Q&A session with the panel that this is not the main issue around the proposed change.

If NGIA doesn’t move with the times and build a strong brand for members to gain benefits for their businesses to then prosper, falling membership will continue to be an ongoing problem. Members want engagement and an association that makes their business stand out amongst the crowd. NGIA needs to be that peak horticultural body that everyone wants to join.

The 2018 national conference was a huge success and much credit should go to the organising committee and the team at NGIA who delivered a fantastic three days of networking, up to date industry information sessions and an excellent social evening program.

 WA has much to live up to as it prepares to host this event in 2020!