Farewell Selwyn Snell: Hort Innovation Chair moves on

By Gabrielle Stannus

Long-standing Hort Innovation Chair Selwyn Snell will retire from his role on the board at its AGM on 27 November, having seen the industry grow through a decade of change.

Selwyn Snell has had a long and distinguished career in the corporate agricultural world. Selwyn began his career in finance with Air New Zealand, before taking over the family farm for five years. He then started his own agricultural research business, conducting trial work for Monsanto amongst other clients, followed by stints with Shell and Elders. Selwyn then headed up ICI Australia’s rural sciences business in Melbourne, before moving to Brisbane to merge this business with Incitec, creating Crop Care Australasia. In his words, Selwyn was then ‘tapped on the shoulder’ to manage AstraZeneca in Japan, remaining there for five years, before returning to Australia where he managed the sale of the Independent Agricultural Merchants Association (IAMA) to Wesfarmers, after which it became Landmark.

Appointed as Chair of Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL) in 2009, this extensive corporate experience put Selwyn in good stead as HAL transitioned to become a completely new grower-owned company, Horticulture Innovation Australia (Hort Innovation) in 2014. Selwyn has remained Chair of Hort Innovation since that time. In addition to the formation of Hort Innovation, Selwyn cites the creation of the Hort Frontiers funds as one of the organisation’s biggest accomplishments during his time as Chair.

“Once we moved to Hort Innovation, we decided that we had to protect the organisation in case it changed should government decide they were not going to fund or contribute to it. What we did is design the model that allowed the levy payers' money to go into one pool and for others that wanted to invest in horticultural innovation into another pool, and that would be matched by government as well,” Selwyn explains, “We created the Hort Frontiers funds, a pool of money in which co-investors can invest with Hort Innovation and industry in longer-term blue sky type research and development projects,” says Selwyn, “It is the only model like this in the research and development corporations (RDC) system. Should one day things change in the set-up of levy funding, then the company can continue to stand on its own two feet and progress with co-investment activities for the benefit of Australian horticulture.”

There are currently seven strategic investment funds within Hort Frontiers, including the Green Cities and Advanced Production Systems Funds. “Hort Innovation has a role to play to ensure that projects get invested, that they do not sit on the shelf; that they get out there and get adopted for the right reasons,” says Selwyn. He is a passionate advocate of technology, calling for more energy and water-efficient ‘smart farms’, labour-saving robotics and digital transformation.

The greenlife industry
Selwyn says that a united, overarching strategic plan for horticulture will help the industry contribute significantly to the gap that the Federal Government is looking for to fill up its export industry value. With its new structure in place, Selwyn claims that Greenlife Industry Australia is uniquely positioned to lead the rest of the industry as it responds to the Federal Government's goal to lift the value of Australian agricultural production to $100 billion by 2030.

“As far as the government’s vision goes for agriculture, there is a big gap there, However, horticulture can do it in ten years. We have doubled our size over the last ten years, and we can double it again. That is almost the gap that the government wants, and our industry alone can do it,” claims Selwyn.

Selwyn acknowledges that a very important part of production horticulture happens pre-farm gate, with the greenlife industry an integral part of the commercial horticulture supply chain. “Your industry is at the forefront of many farming processes, producing seedlings through to plants and trees,” says Selwyn. He says that members of the greenlife industry can help meet the government’s agricultural goal through seed variety improvements, germplasm technologies and tissue culturing advances. Selwyn also points to opportunities for breeders to access new markets overseas through developing unique plant varieties for sale directly or gaining royalties by capitalising on intellectual property.

Where to now?
Selwyn claims that after Hort Innovation’s AGM he will take it easy for a little while. However, with his own consultancy and two sons in business, it is highly unlikely that Selwyn will slow down any time soon. He retains an open-door policy, encouraging the horticultural industry to continue to approach him for advice. “My vision is to help horticulture become the champions. Whilst we have come a long way, there is much more that can be done. However, it is time for somebody else to take over and refreshment is good,” concludes Selwyn.

“On behalf of Greenlife Industry Australia and the nursery sector, I would like to thank and acknowledge Selwyn’s contribution to agriculture and horticulture throughout his career and to the horticulture research and development corporation for over a decade,” said Peter Vaughan, CEO of GIA. “I first met Selwyn when working at IAMA in the early ‘00s and our paths have crossed regularly over the last 20 years, even more so since I started with (N)GIA. Selwyn has always been open to meeting and engaging with the greenlife and nursery sector and understands its important contribution to production and urban horticulture. The Green Cities is an excellent initiative to support the greenlife industry through “green sky” research. On behalf of the nursery industry, I wish Selwyn well with his future pursuits.”