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Crop Production in an Intensive System


Music So, protected cropping is anything that is
protecting any type of crop or cultivation, so it can be any type of structure or mechanism
being netting whether it’s plastic or glass or some sort of material that actually covers
a crop and protects it from the climate or the elements. So, in protected cropping at the moment
there is a lot of people ranging from just pure netting and that is to protect the crops from
hail or birds or insects etcetera. That’s probably the most basic and the most
extensive type of protected cropping for most fruit trees and extensive crops. The next sort of like stage up there in protected
cropping is plastic and they can range from all types of shapes and sizes from tunnels
to multi stand greenhouses to absolutely beautiful, big structures using plastic, sometimes it’s
only got one skin of plastic, sometimes it’s got two skins of plastic what they call twin skin
where they pump air between the two skins to help modify the atmosphere within
the glasshouse or the plastic house and then you’ve got the glasshouses. And they can be quite basic structures,
quite low to very, very high structures up to 8 to 11 metres is the tallest glasshouse
in the world. And these are made from various types of glass
from just plain normal glass to diffuse glass. So, protected cropping is anything that has
a structure over a crop to maximise a yield or to protect it from the climate or the elements. In a facility such as this at the Western Sydney Uni
it’s amazing how you can actually grow excellent crops that are you know flawless
with you know no disease infections, no insect infections and stuff like that. The reason they can do that is because they
obviously have got a controlled environment here so they can actually keep off the rain of the crops. They can also you know make sure that they
don’t get blown over by wind. In this facility here they are growing capsicums
and they are doing a very good job of it. They’re growing in a substrate called grow wall
which is made out of volcanic rock which is actually expanded at high temperatures. And it’s basically an artificial soil medium
or base to grow the roots of the plant in and it’s very, very good substrate for doing
that purpose of what it does is actually holds the roots off the plants, we then feed
the plant with exactly what it wants in terms of water and fertilisers and nutrition. And we deliver that food and nutrition to
the plant through a little dripper or spike directly to the root of the plant and in this
case it’s capsicums, that plant then actually takes whatever it needs, water and nutrients,
puts it up its system and then procreates leaves and photosynthesises and then
produces fruit, whatever the plant doesn’t need gets captured in little gutters which run below
the crop and then go back into a collection system where it’s actually filtrated
and either used back on the crop again or it’s actually disposed of by putting it
onto lawns in the facility here. Another thing that they’re doing here
they are using strings to actually hold the plants up so that they can you know hold
a lot of yield and not fall over. As a grower in the protected cropping industry
I often get asked what are the advantages and disadvantages of being a
protected cropping grower? Obviously the advantages are that we can actually
control the atmosphere or the climate within our greenhouse, we can optimise the conditions
to optimise and maximise yield for our crops. Obviously we mitigate risks from you know
rain, hail, insects and pests and birds but sometimes that can also be a disadvantage
because what is actually happening is that you’re actually creating this perfect environment,
it can actually be perfect for pests and diseases as well. Big disadvantage for our industry because
it’s growing so quickly and the technology is really racing ahead it’s actually we battle
to find really good skilled people who’ve got the skills and experience to keep up with
the technology and people who are actually prepared to do the grunt work and work day in
and day out in environments that are sometimes quite hot for humans, perfect for plants. You rely so heavily on the technologies. So, we’re feeding, we’re controlling these plants,
we’re watering and feeding them all the time. So, if you have something like a power cut
or electricity blackout you’re in trouble unless you have a backup generator because
your plants are then at the mercy of the elements without any water or way to survive
without you feeding or looking after them. So, you know they’re big pluses but there’s
sometimes disadvantages and you know it’s also keeping up your skills up to move with
the times and the technology, that’s probably our hardest and biggest challenge at the moment. The technologies are changing daily,
we’re finding now that people are trying to maximise production in countries with low light levels
so that LEDs are coming into play. We’re finding other places that are actually
limiting some of the light that they get too much light for crops like strawberries where
they’re actually doing blackouts in their glasshouses. A lot of the plants used in the protected
cropping industry are actually bred for this type of production in a high tech,
they’re used to producing a lot of crop and I would compare it to you know training a horse for
the Melbourne Cup with a thoroughbred horse that’s got good breeding it’s bred to race
whereas a crop that you probably would grow outside in the soil is probably like a pony
that does show jumping or dressage it’s got a different you know purpose. These plants here have been bred there
scientists have put a lot of work and effort into making sure they’re well-bred and that
they are resistant to a lot of the diseases or the common diseases and that they are a little bit
more resistant to pest outbreaks. So, they’re not genetically modified,
most of them are selected on good genetics and the big focus now a lot of the breeders are
producing really good nutrient dense food that are full of nutrients for you and I and
that the fruit is also really presentable and it looks good and it presents well and
it tastes good because you know everyone’s now back onto variety that have good taste. The technology that protected cropping offers
is actually something that’s going to open a lot of doors for kids or young people
who’ve got great skills with maths and science and engineering skills because the way we grow
with all really high tech we can see our greenhouses being modified to be better engineered. You know in our circumstance where we grow
at the moment we are obviously growing in a really hot climate it would be nice to have
more ventilation but at the same time we don’t want the structures to fall down. So, engineering is going to be a huge play
in the future to really improve our structures. I mean we’re all about you know the size of
growing crops under controlled environments but there’s so much more that we can learn. So, the protected cropping industry in Australia
is worth 1.8 billion dollars to the economy and it is the fastest growing sector in the
horticultural industry and it’s going to only get bigger. And it’s actually getting bigger around the
world so globally protected cropping is increasing because of the variable climates and
climate change people are wanting to minimise the risks so what they plant is what they reap
so that they take out the risks. So, protected cropping is growing and
it’s becoming a really big sector and obviously worth a lot of money to
the Australian government and to the economy here. So, protected cropping at farm gate level is 1.8 billion. The potential of the protected cropping industry
in Australia is enormous. I’m actually really excited and very enthusiastic
about the potential for the young people because they’re born with iPhones, iPads, computers,
they’re very familiar with technology and our industry is all about technology,
it’s about using the resources to maximise yields to get crops growing out of season in
you know different climates and the potential as well is for exports. And we can actually produce a product that
customers in Japan are very familiar with they want out of season and we can actually
produce in here in Australia and export into a gap and a market. Music

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