Protected Cropping Australia (PCA) is the peak industry body representing the greenhouse, substrate and hydroponic sector in Australia. PCA has gone back to grass-roots, re-connecting growers, getting them networking and sharing knowledge and ideas, providing platforms for learning and training to up-skill and re-energise members.

The Allied Trade are supporting the PCA on their crusade by providing sponsorship to get events off the ground and make things happen.

We organised a two day regional greenhouse tour showcasing Central Coast, New South Wales – which is situated only 90 km north of Sydney where the biggest population in Australia lives.

There were fifty-five PCA members came together from all over Australia and from diverse sectors including herbs, flowers, berries, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, Asian veg, capsicums, eggplants, figs, ginger and allied trade.

The town planner and senior strategist from the NSW Central Council Council attended as well to get an insight into the wants and needs of primary producers.

The itinerary was full-on visiting eight greenhouse businesses in two days. The buses were sponsored by Achmea Australia Insurance.

The tour started with Joe and Maria Olivieri from Olivieri’s Flower Farm in Doyalson North, NSW. This farm is owned by 3 brothers, Joe, Tony and Nate Olivieri and they grow oriental lilies, Asiatic lilies and gerberas. The farm has low tech tunnels for the lilies but has polycarbonate Azrom greenhouses for the gerberas.

The second visit was to Roses & Berries 2 Go owned and operated by Wade and Nicky Mann – this was quite an experience as all the visitors were shown all the new and novel crops being grown alongside or inter-planted with the roses, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. It was fascinating to the see the ginger, turmeric, myoga, edible flowers, figs, spring onions, mini egg-plants and passion fruit all being grown on substrate with 100% no-spray. Garden City Plastics (GCP) sponsored this visit and Luciana from GCP gave a talk on their pot range and as well as their Jiffy products.

After lunch, the tour headed to Sprint Horticulture and their brand new David Gill greenhouse with all internals supplied by Powerplants, who actually sponsored this visit. Craig and Karen Bryson and their daughter Anna Blom, kindly hosted this visit and explained in detail the precision required in high tech propagation.

The last visit for day one of the tour was to Sam and Phil Dominello’s Flower Farm where they grow oriental lilies, Asiatic lilies, lisianthus and freesias in Spanishstyle tunnels. They steam sterilise all their soil used for production and then add a worm tea from their on-farm worm farm to really boost quality and plants immunity from pest or disease infection. This visit was sponsored by AIS Greenworks who provided refreshments after a long day of visits.

The second day of the tour started off at Family Fresh Farms, owned by billionaire Gerry Harvey and managed by Andrew Young. The Dutch Head Grower, Patrick de Craen, was back in the Netherlands visiting family, but the group was given a detailed talk about the site set-up, the Apex Glasshouses’ installation & the internal fittings by Royal Brinkman. This 5ha facility is high tech with CO2 injection, heating, shade and energy screens and everything expected of a project of this size and sophistication.

They are growing snacking cucumbers which are sold on a contract price to Perfection Fresh.

It was then onto Wavertree Farms which supply Bardens Fresh Produce, this farm is managed by Nathan Clarkson – a very experienced Asian veg grower and extremely experienced Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) grower. This farm was 11 ha under hail netting, Barden’s produces approximately 20% of the Asian veg in Australia. Nathan also showed the PCA group the herbs growing on moving benches in an ebb and flow system.

This visit was sponsored by Greater Sydney Local Land Services (LLS) in conjunction with VegNet which is supported by Horticulture Innovation Australia (HIA) and there was an interesting presentation by Matthew Plunkett from LLS.

The tour squeezed in another impromptu visit to ‘Forty’ – Fortios Tselis of Tselis Fresh Fruit and the group were shown a mixture of low-tech substrate systems growing tomatoes in Spanish-style tunnels and then a nice new Redpath Greenhouse with a lovely new crop of tomatoes. Lunch was served amongst the citrus and avocado orchards. Last stop of the two day tour was to the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) and their research facility and greenhouses at the University of Newcastle, Ourimbah Campus. Tour participants were met by Dr Len Tesoriero (CROPDOC) – plant pathologist, Dr John Golding – post harvest specialist, Dr Sophie Parks – plant nutritionist, Dr Adrian Nicholas – entomologist, Dr Sukvinder Pal (SP) Singh – researcher, Josh Jarvis, Shannon Mulholland and Fiona Lidbetter. Visitors looked at Queensland Fruit Flies being sterilised, grafted cucumbers, bacteria testing kits, metarhiziums and of course the new cold plasma technology which is hoped to revolutionise treatment of fresh produce to make it safe for export between states and countries.

This visit was again sponsored by Greater Sydney Local Land Services and the VegNet program supported by HIA.

PCA members get priority access and invitations to tours, workshops and conferences.

This is an edited extract first published in Hortidaily 12/3/18 by PCA Chair Nicky Mann Ph 0404 921 209