Un­der­cover crop boom

The Gazette (Derwent Valley) - - NEWS - KAROLIN MACGREGOR

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.

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