Fu­ture Grow­ing

I re­cently at­tended the 14th Pro­tected Crop­ping Aus­tralia con­fer­ence, (the 10th which I have at­tended), and it was by far the best.

NZ Grower - - Election 2017 - By Mike Nichols

It was held at the Ade­laide Con­ven­tion Cen­tre (South Aus­tralia) from 9 to 12 July, and pro­vided at­ten­dees with a mass of in­for­ma­tion, and also the very im­por­tant op­por­tu­nity to net­work with other grow­ers, the ser­vic­ing in­dus­tries and re­searchers.

Pro­tected Crop­ping Aus­tralia (PCA) is the in­dus­try body, which ser­vices com­mer­cial hy­dro­ponic and aquaponic green­house grow­ers in Aus­tralia, and they hold a con­fer­ence ev­ery two years at dif­fer­ent venues within Aus­tralia.

In to­tal 431 del­e­gates at­tended the con­fer­ence. The main spon­sors were Apex Green­houses (which orig­i­nated as Faber Green­houses in New Zealand) and the Dutch company Royal Brinkman. There were a to­tal of 67 ex­hibitors, pri­mar­ily from Aus­tralia, but also some from over­seas, in­clud­ing New Zealand: the Hamil­ton based elec­tronic fruit grader BBC Tech­nolo­gies, Palmer­ston North’s Red­path Green­houses, and Hay­grove Tun­nels from Master­ton. There was also a Chi­nese green­house man­u­fac­turer, Bei­jing King­pen, the fer­tiliser company Yarra, and a coir company from Sri Lanka, BrownGrow. Of course many of the Aus­tralian ex­hibitors were linked directly to large in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies.

The con­fer­ence (as is usual) was di­vided into a first day of ple­nary pre­sen­ta­tions, con­cur­rent gen­eral ses­sions the sec­ond morn­ing and then broke up into five spe­cialised sec­tions for the rest of sec­ond day: fruit and veg­etable vine crops, leafy greens, flori­cul­ture, aquapon­ics, and berries. This restricted the chances of at­tend­ing more than a small num­ber of the final day’s pre­sen­ta­tions.

The con­fer­ence was for­mally opened by the As­sis­tant Min­is­ter for Agri­cul­ture and Wa­ter Re­sources, Sen­a­tor Anne Rus­ton, and then the con­fer­ence proper be­gan. The key­note speaker was Dr Kathe­rina Adamitza from the LED (light-emit­ting diode) light company Valoya in Fin­land. Her topic was “LED and light qual­ity in plants”.

There were three other pa­pers on Plant Fac­to­ries and Ar­ti­fi­cial Light­ing (PFAL as it is now com­monly called), but Dr Adamitza’s paper was by far the most au­thor­i­ta­tive.

She de­scribed how light af­fects plants be­cause the light en­ergy is trans­ferred by pho­tons which are then sensed by pho­tore­cep­tors within the plant such as phy­tochromes and cryp­tochromes,

and then trig­ger the start of im­por­tant meta­bolic pro­cesses such as pho­to­syn­the­sis and so on. These pho­tore­cep­tors are sen­si­tive to spe­cific wavelengths, for ex­am­ple blue light stim­u­lates stom­atal open­ing, red light pho­to­syn­the­sis, and UV-A (ul­tra­vi­o­let A) light en­hances pig­ment ac­cu­mu­la­tion. LEDs dif­fer from HPS (high pres­sure sodium) and metal halide light­ing, and be­cause they are monochro­matic of­fer the po­ten­tial to tar­get spe­cific wavelengths. How­ever Dr

Adamitza con­cluded that since noth­ing is as good as na­ture, it is im­por­tant to im­i­tate the light source of the sun with LED light­ing as qual­i­ta­tively as pos­si­ble. This is a state­ment that I for one would strongly dis­agree with!

I gave the next paper – on medic­i­nal cannabis – and this was fol­lowed by Graeme Smith who spoke on ver­ti­cal farm­ing based on his at­ten­dance at con­fer­ences in Sin­ga­pore and Panama. (Is the Sky Greens project in Sin­ga­pore a PFAL? Cer­tainly when I vis­ited it some years ago, there were no ar­ti­fi­cial lights, and the grow­ing medium was soil.)

Later the first morn­ing James Alt­mans from Bi­o­log­i­cal Ser­vices, South Aus­tralia, pre­sented a paper in which he posed the ques­tion of how best to op­ti­mise In­te­grated Pest Man­age­ment (IPM) in the fu­ture. He raised the spec­tre of new pest in­cur­sions (such as the Tomato Potato Psyl­lid, the Tomato Red Spi­der Mite), and sug­gested not to use heavy chem­i­cal con­trol un­less it was to meet ex­port quar­an­tine re­quire­ments (as in New Zealand). He also posed the pos­si­bil­ity of us­ing in­sect pathogens (such as fungi, bac­te­ria or viruses) to con­trol in­sects (such as B thuringien­sis), and new re­lease meth­ods for bio-con­trol agents us­ing sa­chets and so on. With the trend to­wards the pro­tec­tive crop­ping of berryfruit, the value of the cu­c­umeris mite and per­sim­ilis mite are be­com­ing very ap­par­ent.

In the final paper be­fore lunch, Kelly McJan­nett of Food Lad­der gave an in­spir­ing ac­count of how green­houses could sup­port im­pov­er­ished com­mu­ni­ties. Food Lad­der is an Aus­tralian based not-for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion work­ing to ad­dress food se­cu­rity us­ing cli­mate con­trolled green­houses. It is ap­par­ently a model which works in two very di­verse en­vi­ron­ments: im­pov­er­ished slum ar­eas in In­dia, and re­mote in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties in Aus­tralia. In the af­ter­noon ses­sion, Wim van Esch of Ach­mea, Aus­tralia, ex­plained the need to man­age and mit­i­gate the risk of prod­uct li­a­bil­ity. Some­thing that many peo­ple have never con­sid­ered, but some­thing which is be­com­ing more and more rel­e­vant with im­prove­ments in prod­uct trace­abil­ity. This in­volves ini­tially iden­ti­fy­ing the risks in­volved in your busi­ness, and es­tab­lish­ing a risk man­age­ment frame­work. Ton Habraken from Lud­vig Svens­son then pre­sented a fas­ci­nat­ing paper on the un­der­es­ti­mated ef­fects of out­go­ing long wave ra­di­a­tion on your green­house crop. Es­sen­tially >

this was a plea to use screens to con­trol the out­go­ing long wave ra­di­a­tion, in or­der to en­sure that the plants grow ef­fec­tively. He ex­plained how on clear nights the top of the plant could be well be­low the de­sired op­ti­mum tem­per­a­ture, so that not only would tran­spi­ra­tion slow down (or cease) and calcium not reach to cells at the tip of the plant, but also that gut­ta­tion could oc­cur, and with it a risk of fun­gal dis­eases.

Mar­cel Bugter of Yara has a well-de­served in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion for his knowl­edge of the ef­fi­cient use of chelates in hy­dro­pon­ics. He ex­plained very clearly the need to use chelates to en­sure that the plant roots are able to ab­sorb ad­e­quate iron. He sug­gested that the use of com­pound chelates in­cor­po­rat­ing man­ganese, zinc and cop­per in the iron chelate was far su­pe­rior to us­ing a sim­ple iron chelate with cop­per, man­ganese and zinc sul­phates, as the pH (acid­ity/al­ka­lin­ity) close to the plant roots can fre­quently get to pH 6 or even pH 7.

Fi­nally the day con­cluded with Jef­fery Pouw of Her­madex Agro dis­cussing “Ideal Light – Shad­ing/Dif­fu­sion”. He ex­plained how shad­ing sim­ply re­duces the over­all light in­ten­sity, whereas the use of dif­fu­sion coat­ings on the glass en­sures that the light is spread more evenly through­out the green­house, and more im­por­tantly, that dif­fu­sion re­sults in deeper pen­e­tra­tion of light through­out the canopy.

At the con­fer­ence din­ner on the Mon­day, Don Grant from Tas­man Bay Herbs gave us a fas­ci­nat­ing ac­count of his life, which in­cluded be­ing a post­mas­ter (of a very small South­land post of­fice), a tour bus driver, and fi­nally a herb grower. This was fol­lowed by the pre­sen­ta­tion of the Pro­tected Crop­ping Aus­tralia awards, with Saskia Blanch the company sec­re­tary of the PCA be­ing pre­sented with a well-de­served award for her 25 years of ser­vice. Graeme Smith, Rick Don­nan and Leigh Taig re­ceived the In­dus­try Train­ing award, while Len Te­soriero was made Re­searcher of the Year. Mar­cus Brand­sema was pre­sented with the Chair­man’s award, and St­ef­fan Krauhaar the Young Achiever award, while Ian Mort­lock be­came the Grower of the Year. The Best Trade Ex­hibit award was given to Grow sys­tems Aus­tralia, and Apex Green­houses was given the New Prod­uct award for their in­no­va­tive ‘re­track slid­ing roof sys­tem’..

The sec­ond day pro­vided me with a limited op­por­tu­nity to at­tend the wide range of pre­sen­ta­tions be­cause they all ran con­cur­rently. I gave two pre­sen­ta­tions my­self , one on “Fruit Grow­ing in the Fu­ture” (see The Or­chardist, 72(3), 11–14) and

one on “Aquapon­ics – Food for the Fu­ture or Flawed Con­cept?” and I was only able to at­tend a few of the other pre­sen­ta­tions.

I was par­tic­u­larly im­pressed with John Leslie from Ver­ti­cal Farm Sys­tems, Queens­land, who gave a Churchill like pre­sen­ta­tion of­fer­ing noth­ing but blood, toil, tears and sweat. In other words, ver­ti­cal farm­ing is not that sim­ple. I was less than im­pressed with Young Han from Enza Zaden in Korea, who pro­vided a less than crit­i­cal re­view of let­tuce plant fac­to­ries. A se­ries of pic­tures from dif­fer­ent places does not pro­vide a use­ful paper un­less there is a sound com­men­tary.

In the con­cur­rent ses­sions on the Tues­day morn­ing, Sonny Mo­eren­hout of Gro­dan sug­gested that wa­ter is the chal­lenge of the fu­ture, and that stone wool and hy­dro­pon­ics is a pos­si­ble so­lu­tion. Ian Gesche of Starfish Ini­tia­tives con­sid­ered the emerg­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges for green­house car­bon diox­ide en­rich­ment in re­la­tion to a chang­ing land­scape of in­creas­ing costs for nat­u­ral gas, of cli­mate change, and the shift to­wards re­new­able en­ergy sources. David Caval­laro of Stoller, Aus­tralia, de­scribed how nu­tri­ents in­flu­ence the growth of plants through their ef­fect on plant hor­mones, and >

Ton Habraken of Lud­vig Svens­son ex­plained how cli­mate screens can be used to op­ti­mise plant growth in hot cli­mates. Rick Don­nan then pre­sented his paper on the fun­da­men­tals of hy­dro­ponic man­age­ment, and So­hum Gandhi of En­riva sug­gested that tem­per­ate cli­mate heat­ing sys­tems in which the CO2 pro­duced by burn­ing gas is used in the green­house dur­ing the day ánd the hot wa­ter stored for night-time use, might not be ap­pro­pri­ate for Aus­tralia, and that liq­uid CO2 might be a bet­ter so­lu­tion. Graeme Smith then gave a talk on the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples be­hind green­house man­age­ment, clearly based on his train­ing pro­grammes, and full of use­ful in­for­ma­tion. Af­ter morn­ing tea it was time for the spe­cialised in­ter­est groups. The Vine Veg­eta­bles group heard Dion Pot­ter of Syn­genta de­scribe dif­fer­ent crop pro­tec­tion op­tions, while Mar­cus van Hei­jst of Priva de­scribed the first of the ro­bots for green­house work – a de­leaf­ing ma­chine. The fu­ture is al­ready here! Farm biose­cu­rity was the sub­ject of Len Te­soriero’s pre­sen­ta­tion, and he em­pha­sised that plant biose­cu­rity is es­sen­tial in or­der to pro­tect the in­vest­ment. In sup­port of this con­cept, Jonathan Lid­bet­ter sug­gested that graft­ing of cu­cum­bers should be eval­u­ated on a case-by-case ba­sis. Fi­nally Ivan Cas­teels of Cu­ti­lene em­pha­sised the im­por­tance of fibre in stone wool.

In the Leafy Greens sec­tion, Len Te­soriero spoke on Downy Mildew dow­nun­der, and vet­eran Rick Don­nan told us all about start-up solutions for hy­dro­pon­ics – ba­sic but es­sen­tial knowl­edge. To con­clude the af­ter­noon, Harry Turna of Rijk Zwaan, Aus­tralia, gave a gen­eral view on new hy­dro­ponic de­vel­op­ments through­out the world, with an em­pha­sis on ur­ban farm­ing. Gra­ham Grant of Wardell Hy­dro­ponic Let­tuce then re­flected on the use of IPM on leafy greens. He con­cluded that al­though IPM is far from per­fect (and is cer­tainly not the sil­ver bul­let) it has some wel­come ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing a stronger so­cial li­cense.

In the Berries sec­tion my pre­sen­ta­tion on “Fruit Grow­ing in the Fu­ture” (see ear­lier) was fol­lowed by So­phie Parks’ pre­sen­ta­tion on “Con­sumer Pref­er­ences for Blue­ber­ries”, in which she found that flavour at­tributes are a ma­jor fac­tor and the belief that berries are “healthy and good for me”, and “taste good” are very im­por­tant driv­ers, while ex­pense is a ma­jor bar­rier to pur­chase.

Nicky Mann then gave a pre­sen­ta­tion on berry pro­duc­tion in green­houses,

later to be fol­lowed by her hus­band Wade Mann speak­ing on IPM for green­house berry crops. Both Nicky and Wade gave ex­cel­lent pre­sen­ta­tions, and ob­vi­ously gained a great deal of valu­able in­for­ma­tion from their (sep­a­rate) Nuffield Schol­ar­ships. A fur­ther paper by So­phie Parks opened up a po­ten­tially im­por­tant re­search area, the ef­fect of thin­ning flow­ers to in­crease blueberry fruit size and flavour. The re­sults are still not clear, so the jury is still out on the com­mer­cial po­ten­tial of fruit thin­ning.

In the Flower sec­tion Nicky Mann spoke on “Sur­viv­ing and Striv­ing in the Aus­tralian Flower In­dus­try”. She con­cludes that flow­ers are part of a global econ­omy, and with threats will come op­por­tu­ni­ties. Mark Massey of Polito Farms de­scribed the con­ver­sion of a fam­ily run flower busi­ness near Sydney from the field to a hy­dro­ponic green­house oper­a­tion. This type of change is very chal­leng­ing to both work­ers and man­age­ment, and the dif­fi­cul­ties were not fully ap­pre­ci­ated at the time the changes were made. So­nia Bit­mead of Cur­rey Flow­ers then pre­sented a paper on a topic that should be rel­e­vant to every­one – suc­ces­sion plan­ning. She em­pha­sised that this in­volves the trans­fer of lead­er­ship, man­age­rial con­trol, and own­er­ship of fam­ily farm­ing as­sets from one gen­er­a­tion to the next. How can this be achieved and those in­volved also sur­vive as a fam­ily? Good ques­tion. Rick Don­nan then pre­sented a paper on be­half of Her­man Ei­jkel­boom (Nether­lands) who was un­able to at­tend, on the in­flu­ence of pH and EC (elec­tri­cal con­duc­tiv­ity) on flow­ers.

The sec­tion on Aquapon­ics be­gan with Wil­son Len­nard who ad­dressed one of the ma­jor crit­i­cisms of this grow­ing sys­tem – the dif­fi­culty of cre­at­ing ap­pro­pri­ate hy­dro­ponic ana­logues in aquapon­ics. Dr Len­nard stated that the food sup­plied to fish in an aquapon­ics sys­tem does not pro­vide plants with ad­e­quate lev­els of potas­sium, calcium and phos­pho­rous, and also pro­vides plants with ex­ces­sive lev­els of ni­tro­gen. He pro­posed that by us­ing a re­fined mass bal­ance method­ol­ogy, 95% of the nu­tri­ent re­quire­ments of the plants can be sup­plied through fish waste prod­ucts. Jenny Ek­man from Hor­ti­cul­ture Re­search Aus­tralia then turned aquapon­ics on its head and asked can we turn veg­etable waste into fish food? She pro­posed that black sol­dier flies, yel­low meal worm, su­per worm, and house flies might pro­vide a pos­si­ble so­lu­tion. One ob­vi­ous fact is that fish are con­sumed not only for their pro­tein, but also for the valu­able omega 3 fatty acids which are de­rived by fish from al­gae. An­drew Bodlovich of Ur­ban Eco­log­i­cal Sys­tems then pro­posed that lessons could be learnt from an­cient Chi­nese in­te­grated farm­ing sys­tems, and con­cluded that we should re­main open to mod­ern tech­nol­ogy, while at the same time not for­get­ting an­cient agri­cul­ture and the prin­ci­ples of holism.

The aquapon­ics sec­tion con­cluded with my crit­i­cal views on whether aquapon­ics was food for the fu­ture, or sim­ply a flawed con­cept.

On the Wed­nes­day, two op­tional farm vis­its were avail­able. The first (which I took) was to visit Ppet­ual Pty Ltd, and then the Yalumba Nurs­ery, while the al­ter­na­tive vis­its were to the Waite Re­search In­sti­tute and the his­toric town of Hah­n­dorf in the Ade­laide Hills. It had been in­tended to visit other green­house tomato grow­ers, but the con­cern over the Tomato Potato Psyl­lid in West­ern Aus­tralia re­sulted in them be­ing quar­an­tined.

At Ppet­ual we ob­served two tomato crops, one just fin­ish­ing and the other just start­ing to flower. Ppet­ual has re­cently had Apex build 2ha of state-of-the-art green­houses, with all the nec­es­sary bells and whis­tles to pro­duce heavy high qual­ity crops. At the Yalumba Nurs­ery in the world renowned Barossa Val­ley we were shown how the root­stocks were se­lected and trimmed, and then how the graft­ing was un­der­taken us­ing an au­to­matic grafter to en­sure a close fit of scion and root­stock.

▴ Boiler house at P’Pe­t­ual.

▴ Browngrow coir from In­dia (left), Royal Brinkman (mid­dle), Hay­grove (right).

◀ From top to bot­tom: Apex, Red­path Green­houses, Bei­jing King­pen, Agspec, Yara fer­til­izer.

Vine graft­ing ma­chine.

◀ Boiler house at P’Pe­t­ual (top), Vine graft (bot­tom).

q Clause/Haz­era (top), De Ruiter/Sem­i­nis (bot­tom).

◀ Dr Adamitza (left), Ms Kelly McJan­nett (right).

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