Undercover crop boom
PROTECTED cropping is expanding rapidly across the country and Tasmania is no exception.
Figures from Protected Cropping Australia show the greenhouse production industry is expanding by 4 to 6 per cent a year.
Tasmania now has about 10ha under greenhouse production and about 25 commercial producers.
The Cracknell family saw the potential in protected cropping systems a long time ago. They started Cracknell Tomatoes about 35 years ago and expanded with a new green- house eight years ago.
Matthew and Katie Cracknell now run the business.
“Mum and dad have always supplied Woolworths and we’ve continued on with that,” Matthew Cracknell said.
The family’s main crop is truss tomatoes, which are sold loose and in 500g pre-packaged containers.
The new greenhouse allows them to supply tomatoes 42 weeks of the year.
Their 4032 square metres of covered growing area at Granton can house 7000 plants with double heads, equivalent to 14,000 plants.
One of the benefits of greenhouse systems is the rate of production. The Cracknells grow about 30 to 50 tonnes of fruit annually and that works out to about 57kg of tomatoes per square metre.
“You can control every- thing in there so it’s just a sensible farming option for this sort of fruit, or any sort of fruit,” Mr Cracknell said.
“It takes a lot of the risk out of it which is what you want.”
The only things that cannot be controlled are light levels, which drop off after the summer months.
Mr Cracknell is looking at options for supplementary lighting that may boost yields towards the end of the season.
A biomass boiler fuelled by green waste is used to heat the greenhouse, with a minimum of 20C ideal.
“There’s heaps of things you can grow in them,” Mr Cracknell said.
“Everything from flowers to eggplants, capsicum, cucumbers. There are not too many large cucumber growers, so there’s scope for more.”
Tomato plants for the new season have just been planted in the greenhouse, with picking to start in early October.
Plants are grown in a hydroponic system with nutrition adjusted through the year.
“Everything we grow we pretty much pick. Our wastage is minimal.”
The Cracknells employ two full-time staff and 15 casuals.
Across Australia, the industry is worth $1.3 billion a year at the farm gate. It employs about 10,000 people.