Greenhouse Technologies Proving a Hit with
Growers Trying to Escape the Elements

The growth and interest in greenhouse technologies is a response to climate risk, according to a man whose family has been involved in hydroponics for decades.

Protected Cropping Australia director Marcus Brandsema has been at the forefront of greenhouse and hydroponic technology through his family business, J & A Brandsema Pty Ltd.

The Tasmanian tomato grower has been growing vegetables at Turners Beach since 1958, and has won national awards for an innovative approach to greenhouse production.

Greenhouse Growers Workshop
His father John Brandsema said his father had started dabbling with hydroponics in 1953, but was before his time.

“He couldn’t get the right gear or fertilisers, so he gave up,” he said. “Later, when he saw what we started doing, he used to say ‘If only this could have happened 30 years ago — I would have made a fortune’.”

Six decades on, Marcus Brandsema believes the current growth and interest in greenhouse technologies is a response to climate risk.

“When you start putting a cover over something and growing underneath it, you’re starting to remove some of the variables that you’d normally be exposed to, such as excessive rain or wind,” he said.

“You can start to control the environment that you’re growing in, be it in a simple way, as you see with simple strawberry tunnels, or in a very complicated way like you see with capsicum or tomato growers that grow year round.”

“It’s about minimising your risks and ensuring continuity from one crop to the next.”

Tasmanian growers trying to escape the elements
Rae Young, a sheep farmer from Ross in Tasmania’s northern midlands, has started growing garlic and was keen to learn more about protected cropping.

Maarten Blokker’s new greenhouse
She joined more than 40 growers from around Australia gathered in Devonport for a Greenhouse Growers’ Workshop organised by PCA.

Rick Hendrikson, a strawberry grower from Stanthorpe, Queensland, believes protective cropping is the future for growing, “getting out of the elements and trying to extend your season”.

Simon Dornauf, a berry grower from Hillwood in the Tamar Valley, has moved from two hectares of in-ground production under poly tunnel, to 10 hectares of table top production in the space of just five years.

“The industry has really taken off in that time. We were the first Driscoll growers in Tasmania five years ago,” Mr Dornauf said.

“The demand is there nationally, and the protected cropping means we’re getting a more consistent and high-yielding crop.”

Mr Dornauf said in the future he planned to experiment with glasshouse and robotic production to offset the high cost of labour in Australia.

Water analysis grows along with hydroponics
The PCA Greenhouse Growers’ Workshop included visits to a new greenhouse facility, hosted by freesia grower Maarten Blokker in Wesley Vale, and Agvita Analytical, a leading nutritional laboratory for water, soil and plant analysis based in Devonport.

Agvita Analytical general manager Michael Ruffels said the service specialised in fast turnaround of results from field to laboratory, and back to growers to amend paddocks.

He has seen significant growth in the past five years, particularly with the hydroponic group around Australia, attracted by using less water and recycling it more.

“Water analysis has seen a 300-400 per cent increase in that period,” Mr Ruffels said.

“And our employees have increased from nine to 14.”

Self-confessed “dabbler” John Brandsema said there was so much information and technology available these days, it made him jealous.

“I should be 40 years younger!” John said.

ABC Rural 18/8/16