Opportunities for the innovative

MICHAEL Badcock says: we are living in times of change.

While this is quite confronting for most people it also creates a land of opportunity for the more innovative in our society prepared to implement change.

One thing a very innovative uncle of mine (the late Peter Gilham - the founder of the Onion and Walnut Industries in Tasmania) impressed on me was that you need to recognise and develop your natural advantages.

Tasmania has two of these fantastic natural advantages with its tourist potential and secondly its ability to produce some of the safest, cleanest, high quality and reliable food produce in the world.

Some industries such as seafood, fruit and wines are already capitalising and prospering utilising these natural advantages, but I believe that one of the greatest challenges facing Tasmania is how we can further develop these initiatives.

In these changing times an individual will find it difficult to proceed with successful innovation. We need systems where groups or clusters of across industry sectors work together.

Social media will play a very large part, especially with the development of the NBN network. Tasmania should be at the forefront in developing an interconnecting network co- ordinating all of tourism and agriculture into a Tasmanian brand.

During the past three years a group of mainly Northern Tasmanian individuals, co- ordinated through the Cradle Coast Authority have developed such a proposal called "Food Connections Tasmania".

With all parts of industry it has set strategic directions policy, developed a vision statement, a logo and a proposed non-profit business structure. We have also developed a website for implementation and a database of interested people and companies.

Food Connections Tasmania was originally formed out of the North-West Coast Producers Network; a network co-ordinating producers with various markets. After several functions it was decided it needed to be bigger than just the North-West Coast.

The decision to form Food Connections Tasmania in its current form came about for various reasons - sourcing Tasmanian products; producers finding it hard to find markets; inquiries with no co-ordinated contact base.

This has resulted in the development of a website portal that will detail all primary producers, what they grow and or could produce; restaurants, retailers, hotels etc; tourism facilities-networks; calender of produce and events.

The purpose of all of this is that any interested party can interconnect with any of the above, to source products, services and information on a statewide basis. It will allow the development of clusters of producers to potentially direct supply anywhere in the world, allow consumers to identify eating and tourism establishments, the local food they provide plus giving the Tasmanian story as a whole part of the process of developing this website is that the food and Tasmanian story, can be told. By utilising the best of social media, customers will be able to access details of where, how and by whom produced this food. You will be able to tour the state and potentially by using your iPad or iPhone identify the area you are in, the crops being grown and where they are sold.

A lot of the food supply in Australia has been consolidated through supermarkets, but in future I believe that by using social media, groups of producers will be able to supply local, in- season produce direct to the consumer. This will mean a better return to the producer with a fresher and cheaper product available for consumption.

Here again we must look to our Natural Advantages and I see in the future that protected cropping (e.g. glass, plastic, shadehouse) will proliferate plus a vast expansion of crops such as berry fruits, nuts, extractive, medicinal and organic.

This will necessitate again that producers will need to work together to gain critical mass, to supply these markets.

There is an emerging middle class in Asia and elsewhere, who demand clean, healthy, quality food and who are prepared to pay good prices for it. Similarly high class Asian restaurants, hotel chains and supermarkets are requesting exclusive Tasmanian produce. Many potential markets are aware of Tasmanian produce but frustrated by an inability to connect up with producers and potential suppliers.

Although we have received very good vibes from various government, and other sectors the current economic circumstances make it very difficult to secure seed funding to implement the website which I believe is very unfortunate for Tasmania.

•Michael Badcock is interim chairman, Food Connections Tasmania.

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