HORTICULTURE is the golden child within the Australian agriculture landscape, with the potential to change the country's ailing health record.
It might sound biased but for Horticulture Innovation Australia general manager - marketing and investments, David Moore, it's a parochial statement on behalf of an industry which continues to show potential.
Mr Moore spoke at TropAg 2017 in Brisbane earlier this month, opening up the first concurrent horticulture session under the theme of ensuring the health and growth of horticulture.
He said horticulture ticked all the boxes of sustainability - economic, social and environmental.
Figures delivered to the audience showed horticulture has the highest GVP generated per hectare of production land used ($28,285) and the second highest average rate of return (3 per cent per annum) behind grains (3.2pc).
"Horticulture is vital to the future of our economy and the improved health and wellbeing outcomes," Mr Moore said.
"The challenge for all of us is to get more Australians and overseas trading partners eating more Australian fresh produce."
Part of that approach means targeting consumers when they are young.
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"If you want generational change, we have to change children's consumption patterns when they are below 10 years of age," Mr Moore said.
He said healthy behaviours established when children are under 10 meant they would be more likely to make fresh produce part of their disposable incomes later in life.
The drive for increased vegetable, fruit and nut consumption comes on the back of calls for improved diets for Australians.
He floated the idea of providing a piece of fresh produce to school children in lower economic areas in order to establish a consumer habit, similar to the free milk program of the dairy industry in previous decades.
"We are talking about an obesity epidemic that we have to change," Mr Moore said.
"If Australians ate correctly, we'd wipe $100 million off the health budget overnight.
"If we got to that, I don't know if there'd be enough produce to feed and keep up the exports."
But Mr Moore didn't gloss over the need for big funding to make such an impact.
"It's going to take a lot of money," he said.
Mr Moore acknowledged that there was still work to be done in linking research through to the paddock and called for more investment in new product development.
"The signals between the researchers and the markets and the growers are missing a bit," he said.
Sometimes the industry's priorities were misaligned, according to Mr Moore, particularly with the potential of genomic tools and that Australia was dragging the chain in the area.
"Not because we don't have research capacity but we are very close to the kitchen table," he said.
"I think, given that conservative nature of horticulture, because we are so close to the kitchen table, there is a reluctance to embrace genomics."
- This story first appeared on Good Fruit & Vegetables.