Horticulture growers from the Granite Belt and Lockyer Valley have travelled to the United Arab Emirates alongside Department of Agriculture staff to explore how to improve agricultural productivity in marginal environments.
Participants were given the opportunity to explore options that address some of the challenges faced by Queensland producers, including reduced water availability, climate extremes and above-average temperatures.
Granite Belt Growers' Association president Angus Ferrier said it was a great opportunity for growers to learn about the work being undertaken in the UAE to address the challenges of ensuring water security and developing sustainable environments for agriculture.
"It mostly revolves around protected cropping, so the use of glass houses and poly tunnels and the like as a means to protect against extreme weather, but also that is a means of having more produce per megalitre, increasing your water efficiency," Mr Ferrier said.
"These systems are already in place within Australia; they are probably not a mainstay of our production systems, however the times are changing with regards to water reliability and increasingly erratic weather.
"The ability to continue producing fresh fruit and veggies in the harshest of environments being the Middle East; if some of those strategies can be adapted to Australia as a means of mitigating risk and ensuring continuity of top quality fruit and veg for Australian consumers."
The delegation spent a day with the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture, the UAE's agricultural research centre working towards achieving food security in marginal environments.
The ICBA has been charged with developing innovative research to address the challenges of ensuring water and food security, managing natural resources, climate change adaptation, crop productivity and diversification in marginal environments.
One of the highlights for the delegation was a visit to Elite Agro based in Abu Dhabi; the largest producer of potatoes and pesticide-free vegetables in the UAE, including tomatoes, capsicums, eggplants, cucumbers, blueberries and figs in their state-of-the-art greenhouse facility.
The delegation also visited several greenhouse facilities producing a range of fresh produce for the local market, including Gracia Farms, Emirates Hydroponics and Alfafa Hydroponic Farms.
Producers in the UAE have developed a range of medium- to high-tech protective cropping structures and innovative agricultural production systems to adapt to the harsh desert environment.
With the UAE being one of the largest re-export hubs in the world, handling an average of 15,000 tonnes of fresh produce daily, the delegation explored the Al Aweer Fruit and Vegetable Markets and Barakat distribution hub to gain a greater understanding of the local market and potential for export.
Mr Ferrier said it was a timely learning opportunity as growers in the Granite Belt and Lockyer Valley contend with the dry conditions that grip much of Queensland, and become increasingly conscious of mitigating risk.
"People who grow permanent tree crops are forced to either demolish trees or persevere with reduced yields," Mr Ferrier said.
"Vegetable growers, or the annual crop growers, theirs is probably a more simple equation of planting less hectares.
"People are having to make some hard, short term decisions and that affects their short and long term financial position."