The Australian Herb and Spice Industry Association Ltd (AHSIA) recently convened a future directions seminar, held in Ballarat on Wednesday 18th April 2012.

According to AHSIA President Robert Hayes, “The seminar showcased innovative herb and spice business models across a range of sectors from culinary to (complementary) medicinal crops; from protected cropping to organic, and field grown production.”

The seminar program featured the following panel of informative speakers:

· Robert Hayes, is AHSIA President and a Director of Northern Rivers NSW based glass house herb producer FreshZest Pty Ltd, spoke on “Taking stock and future challenges for the Australian Herb & Spice Industry” (Text);

Robert Hayes outlined the development of both the culinary and medicinal herb and spice sectors in Australia over the past 40 years expanding from its initial base of a few seasonal product lines (predominately curly leaf parsley) to the more than 100 product lines widely available today – both fresh and processed, with many more crops new to Australia in the pipeline. He emphasised the continuing need for research and development to meet pest and disease control and government regulatory requirements, as well as market development funding to fully capitalise on the potential of these crops. This will require industry participants to invest in the future of their industry.

· Jan Vydra, is a Director of Mornington Peninsula based herb producer Australian Fresh Leaf Herbs, and 2011 Australian Young Farmer of the Year (among other accolades), spoke of his industry experiences as “A new face and a different way” (Text); (UTube)

Jan (pronounced Yarn) Vydra takes us on his journey as a young and enthusiastic businessman establishing a new fresh herb business, forging strategic partnerships and developing innovative business systems to address the many challenges he identifies in developing a branded product that can deliver on consumer expectations.

· Andrew Drummond, is Managing Director of major Sydney Basin based field grown and hydroponic herb producer Barden Produce, presented “The Barden Produce story” (PowerPoint);

Andrew Drummond explains how Barden Produce as a vertically integrated production, processing, distribution and marketing enterprise has invested in technology to increase its productivity and remain competitive in what is a very tough business environment; now with fewer growers, increased production, greater supply chain transparency, with a focus on product quality, and on-farm value adding. “Company owned packinghouses are not hospitals!”

· Michael Brouwer, is an innovative Maldon, Victoria based organic dried herb producer, processor and distributor Southern Light Herbs, spoke on “Going Organic” (Text) and (PowerPoint);

Michael Brouwer presented an alternative business model of sustainable farming, mentoring a network of 60 small scale certified organic growers. Organic producers have a closer relationship with consumers, organic product price is not linked to world price. Key features of organic herb farming include the production and use of compost made from carefully selected ingredients, enhancing natural systems, labour intensive, hand harvesting, close attention to quality.

· Ben White, CEO of New Rural Industries Australia (NRIA), presenting on “New rural industries – new business directions” (PowerPoint);

Ben White explained the vision of NRIA is for profitable and sustainable new and emerging Australian rural industries, which are strongly connected into markets and regional economies. The Australian Herb and Spice Industry Association is a member of the NRIA alliance of new rural industries; which aims through education, coordination, and cooperation to create an environment for the development and capacity of new, innovative, Australian rural industries.

· Professor Ian Brighthope, of Nutrition Care Pharmaceuticals Pty Ltd, presenting on “A proposal for a home grown safe antidepressant in Australia”. (Text) and (PowerPoint)

Ian Brighthope described the huge and growing market for antidepressant across the world. In Australia in 2009 some 1.5 million people were on antidepressants at a cost to the Government of $300 million. The entire antidepressants market worldwide is estimated at $12 billion per annum! A review of clinical trials involving more than 5,000 patients concluded that extracts of St John’s wort has similar efficacy to standard antidepressants, with less side effects. St John’s wort is a declared noxious weed in Victoria. Subject to addressing various regulatory issues, commercial production of this plant could become a new industry in Australia. Nutrition Care is interesting in working with the Australian herb and spice industry to develop this new opportunity. Similarly ‘curcuman’, the active ingredient of Curcuma longa (Tumeric), has demonstrated analgesic properties and is clinically proven for the symptomatic relief of pain and inflammation of arthritis while effectively inhibiting factors that cause cartilage degeneration – another new Australian spice industry?

The seminar concluded with a panel discussion facilitated by Peter McFarlane of McFarlane Strategic Services, providing a platform for discussion of new opportunities, challenges and future directions for the Australian Herb and Spice Industry. Key themes include:

Working together – strategic partnerships, grower networks and associations; the need to manage supply chains, need to co-invest in R&D and market development, to meet regulatory requirements and develop full industry potential; New Rural Industries Australia has formed to assist new and emerging industries to address common issues and explore new opportunities;

Productivity and efficiency – herb and spice enterprises are investing in technology and building to achieve a critical mass, taking costs out of the system to remain competitive in the market place;

Regulatory challenges – the ongoing review of chemicals used by both conventional and organic producers, and the need to develop bio-control options; food safety issues including the current FSANZ Proposal P1015: Primary Production & Processing Standard for Horticulture, that includes micro-greens and fresh herbs; as well as emerging environmental sustainability requirements;

Consumer trends – the popularity of various ethnic cuisines and the growing influence of the TV cooking and food programs in driving consumer purchases;

Going organic – with the high Australian dollar currently dampening export opportunities, and making imported foods cheaper, the “cost : price” squeeze is making life very tough for Australian producers – in particular for those larger enough to have contracts with the major supermarket chains. One strategy for smaller producers is going organic, and going direct to consumers to achieve a higher margin for their product.

Quality – with product sourced from multiple suppliers the challenge of achieving consistent high quality products to deliver on consumer expectations; the imperative of herb and spice businesses having a HACCP food safety plan.

Emerging opportunities – with new (to Australia) herb and spice crops – both culinary and medicinal, many of which have demonstrated bio-active properties. This may see a convergence of the culinary and medicinal herb and spice sectors with culinary products that have complementary medicinal or nutraceutical properties. A growing middle class in Asia also presents new export opportunities (when the value of the $Australian falls.)


Further media comment is available from Robert Hayes, President, Australian Herb and Spice Industry Association Ltd, phone (02) 6684 4580 or mobile 0418 376 258.


Robert Hayes is President of the Australian Herb and Spice Industry Association since 2008. Robert grew up on a mixed dairy and poultry farm on the Mornington Peninsula south of Melbourne, Victoria. After taking over the family farm in 1975 and rebuilding the farm homestead destroyed by fire in 1977, Robert commenced growing fresh culinary herbs organically, then biodynamically, supplying restaurants and hotels in Melbourne. In 1982 this business was sold and research commenced into continuous production of herbs in a protected cropping environment, utilising hydroponics as a growing method. Product development was targeted at the retail sector and this remains the focus of his business Freshzest P/L. Commercial development commenced in 1988 with 600 m2 of greenhouses, expanding to 16,000m2 today plus field crops. Robert now lives on the NSW north coast an hour drive from Freshzest’s one hectare glasshouse near Lismore, NSW.
Jan Vydra (Jan is pronounced Yarn) founded Australian Fresh Leaf Herbs, a leading Australian herb grower and distributor in 2008 with business partner William Pham. His keen interest in implementing innovation to business saw him and his partner bring change to a traditional industry that was fragmented at the time. In over three years Australian Fresh Leaf Herbs has grown exponentially and it is attributed to Jan’s focus on driving innovation in all areas of the business including incorporating innovative technology in the business model. He is dedicated to continuing to improve the industry from a farming and procurement perspective, whilst also striving to be an advocate for the farming industry. At only 29 years old, Jan is dedicated to developing his business with a fresh approach, and he strives to be an ambassador promoting the benefits of working in the farming industry as a viable career option for other young Australians. He was recently named the nation’s Young Farmer of the Year and aims to use this prestigious title to further pursue his ambition to encourage more young people to enter the industry. Jan is currently a member on a number of boards including the Horticulture Advisory Committee for Consumer and Market Development (Horticulture Australia), South East Business Network for Innovation, and the Bunyip FoodBelt Primary Producers Advisory Group, which has assisted him in discussing his ideas about the farming industry and taken him from businessman / farmer to thought leader. Prior to Australian Fresh Leaf Herbs, Jan was Chief Operating Officer at Yarra Valley Farms.
Andrew Drummond is Managing Director of Barden Produce, and a shareholder in the company with which he has been involved for 18 years. Barden is a vertically integrated company producing a diverse range of field and hydroponic grown vegetable and herb crops, and associated packing operations at its Gatton, Kemps Creek and Peats Ridge facilities supported by its distribution centre at Sydney markets Barden supplies supermarkets, food processors, and independent grocers across Australia. Barden was also the first Australian company to produce truss tomatoes. Prior to joining Barden, Andrew was a sales executive with IBM.
Michael Brouwer and his partner Natalie Greenwood own and operate Southern Light Herbs situated at Maldon in Victoria. Over the last 20 years Southern Light Herbs has worked to promote the growth of organic herb production in Australia. Today, supported by a network of 35 dedicated growers, the company grows processes and distributes a diverse range of premium Australian quality organic teas, medicinal and culinary herbs to our loyal customers within the health food, wholefood and natural therapies sectors.
Ben White is the Chief Executive Officer of New Rural Industries Australia. Previously Ben was CEO of YarraGum Agrifoods, a private investment company focused on Asian export markets. He has a diverse background within private and public sector roles including Manager Food Group, Department of Business and Innovation Victoria and Manager Market Development South East Asia, DPIV Agribusiness Team. He is also actively involved in a North Queensland seafood and restaurant business with a keen engagement in regional development and tourism issues. Ben’s family farming background has involved exposure to sheep, grains, beef and horse industries. He lives in Melbourne and is married with three children and is currently completing a Masters of Agribusiness at Melbourne University. He is a passionate advocate for Australian rural industries developing their full potential in domestic and global markets.
Professor Ian Brighthope is the founder of Nutrition Care Pharmaceuticals Pty Ltd. As a graduate in Agricultural Science, in 1969 Ian entered medical school at the University of New South Wales and following three pre-clinical years, completed his clinical studies at Monash University in Victoria, graduating with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery in1974. After completing his residency and a year of general medicine and anaesthetic practice, he travelled widely throughout Europe, North America and Asia searching for solutions to the problems created by the significant gaps he recognised in the normal medical training of doctors. This travel and educational process to learn about all forms of medicine and healing has continued throughout his career. It was in the fields of plant and animal nutrition that Professor Brighthope became aware of the importance of optimum nutrition and the use of nutritional and biochemical supplementation in animal production, the treatment of animal dysfunction and the potential of this approach in the prevention and treatment of human disease. Also, the addition of agricultural and food processing chemicals to the food chain concerned him and this resulted in his investigating their harmful effects on human health in general and in particular, the human nervous, immune and endocrine systems. Neglect of these areas of human care prompted him to adopt the nutritional medicine and environmental medicine approach in his medical practice, which was the first of its kind in Australia.
Peter McFarlane is the principal of McFarlane Strategic Services, a horticulture industry consultancy specialising in strategic thinking, industry consultation, communications and organisational development, with over 20 years’ experience working with government agencies, industry associations and business entities engaged in the citrus, olive, mango, summer fruit, herb and spice and other product sectors, both in South Australia and nationally, including servicing as executive officer to the Australian Herb and Spice Industry Association Ltd. Peter was raised on a dairy/mixed grazing property in East Gippsland, and graduated with an honours degree in agricultural science from the University of Melbourne. After a career in secondary science and agriculture teaching in Victoria, Northern Territory and South Australia, Peter made the transition to working with horticulture industries.