Proteaceae and new ornamentals conference in Perth succeeds on all levels (Bettina Gollnow)

With almost 90 registrations, and participants from 14 countries (Australia, Chile, Colombia, Israel, Japan, Mexico, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Oman, the Philippines, Portugal, South Africa, the UK, and the USA), the conference was a great success.

The rich diversity of knowledge at the conference resulted from combining two working groups of the International Society for Horticultural Science, namely Proteaceae and New Ornamentals. This brought expanded opportunities for learning and networking. Attendees included new and prospective growers and long established ones, nursery operators, wholesalers and exporters, plant breeders and marketers, and other members of the value chain. Researchers and industry specialists reporting on their work again were a mix of those with many years of research experience and the next generation, a healthy sign for the future of the industry.

A mix of joint and concurrent sessions allowed people to focus on particular areas of interest; breaks and social functions presented ample opportunities to network and do business with new and long established partners. Many came specifically for the networking, seeing new information and ideas a bonus. As is usually the case with IPA conferences, there was a very warm and positive atmosphere, with delegates enjoying all aspects of the conference program.

One of the large arrangements gracing the conference venue, created by florist Nirit Marom.

The keynote presentations allowed highly regarded industry experts to share their in depth knowledge and challenge the audience. A conference dinner highlight was the presentation by plant breeder and award winning gardening media personality Angus Stewart on ‘Kangaroo paws then and now – from wild flower to world market’.

A number of common themes emerged throughout the conference and strengthened the program:

  1. Biodiversity and what it offers the commercial Proteaceae and new ornamental plant industries.
    Keynote speaker Prof. Steve Hopper explained eloquently why the SW of WA is a biodiversity hotspot. Many speakers explored in detail the selection and development of particular species from many different countries. They have tackled the challenges of growing, developing and utilising new species, while keeping an eye on their economic potential as cut flower or foliage products, pot plants or landscape subjects. Other speakers presented insights into the diversity and complexity of specific plant groups, like the Hakeinae, which includes Grevillea.
  1. Specific issues affecting Proteaceae crops.
    Researchers and industry experts presented their latest findings, including insights into things that often frustrate growers like plant nutrition and canopy management, difficulties in propagation, pest management and postharvest disorders.
  1. Development of completely new plants by using novel technologies to produce new hybrids that cannot arise in nature.
    Reflecting advances in scientific techniques, several researchers unveiled the stunning results of applying these new approaches.
  1. Market trends, market demand, and protecting new varieties.
    A number of speakers looked at the challenges of understanding and surviving in the marketplace. Knowing what the market is looking for is critical. So is the right promotion and the right legal protection of new plant varieties. Keynote speaker Pete Kruger from the Ball Horticultural Company felt the booming US market for woody plants and future trends may offer new opportunities for native Australian and other drought tolerant plants and those who develop them.
  1. Floristry and ornamental plants
    Beautiful arrangements by Perth florist Nirit Marom graced the conference venue and dinner tables. They featured flowers and foliage generously donated by WAFEX, Premium Greens Australia, and members of the Western Australian Protea Growers Association. Nirit was sponsored by the International Protea Association.

Florist and teacher Leonie Joss from Challenger Institute of Technology Murdoch, WA shared her enjoyment of working with native Australian flowers and foliage products by making a hand-tied bouquet demonstrating a form and line design style and a decorative table arrangement using contemporary techniques.

The trade display included stands promoting Proteaflora and WAFEX – and WAFEX had potted plants of their Helix® waxflowers on display.

Thank you to the following conference sponsors:

Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation

The International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS)

The International Protea Association

The Rendezvous Hotel, Perth Scarborough

The Perth Convention Bureau

Tourism WA

Proteaflora

East Coast Wildflowers

WAFEX

The Flower Association of Qld

Ball Australia

The University of Hawai’i Press

Conference Proceedings

Full proceedings of the conference will be published shortly by the ISHS as an Acta Horticulturae. A huge effort by the authors, technical reviewers and editors resulted in all papers being sent to ISHS in advance of the conference. Therefore publication is expected soon. All fully registered delegates will receive the Acta as part of their registration fee and those who were not able to attend the conference will be available to purchase them.

The feedback

Thirty one delegates completed the conference evaluation form. 17 were members of ISHS, 7 were members of IPA and several people belonged to both associations. 18 had attended an ISHS/IPA conference before.

As you would expect, they heard about the conference from various sources, including the conference website, industry colleagues and industry associations.

16 gave a presentation at the conference.

The keynote speakers were ranked mostly of high, but also of medium, interest; the various sessions within the program were ranked similarly. There was pretty much unanimous agreement that the conference was informative and value for money.

Conference administration was ranked mostly as excellent; the venue, catering, dinner and conference handbook were rated mostly excellent or good.

About half the respondents chose to make additional comments about highlights for them and suggestions for improvement, which are interesting.

Additional highlights:

A Proteaceae Q&A session with conference keynote speaker Dr Gerhard Malan was offered as an evening technical workshop before the conference commenced. It was hosted by WildFlowers Australia and the Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation. It aimed to stimulate interaction between Australian industry members and their overseas colleagues, and about 45 people were in the audience.

Preconference tour well supported

Twenty two delegates (of whom only 4 were from Australia) joined the very busy 4 day pre-conference tour that took the group south of Perth through the Busselton and Margaret River areas, via the magnificent karri forests further south and on to Albany. Technical visits were arranged for the Geographe Community Landcare Nursery, the Nindethana Seed Service and the Banksia Farm.

The Aussie wildlife cooperated as well, with overseas delegates overjoyed to see kangaroos and emus, as well as abundant birdlife.

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