Learning curve

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At the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University in NSW, construction is nearing completion on the new world-class Greenhouse Research Education and Training Facility.

by CHRISTINE BROWN-PAUL

Photography by Sam Ross – Additional photos courtesy Martech Plumbing

A new world-class greenhouse facility currently under development at the Hawkesbury Campus of Western Sydney University (WSU) is set to equip the Australian horticulture industry with the technology required to meet the increasing constraints in water and energy supplies.

Construction of the greenhouse – which is part of a $7 million joint initiative between WSU and Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited (Hort Innovation) – is nearing completion.

The new Greenhouse Research Education and Training Facility (RETF) has a bold vision to help Australian growers tap into the latest research and practices within greenhouse crop production to make their operations more efficient, and meet the increased demand for fresh food that can be delivered quickly to markets.

The new world-class greenhouse facility will equip the Australian horticulture industry with the technology to meet the increasing constraints in water and energy supplies. Courtesy Martech Plumbing.

The new world-class greenhouse facility will equip the Australian horticulture industry with the technology to meet the increasing constraints in water and energy supplies. Courtesy Martech Plumbing.

A Hort Innovation spokesperson said the greenhouse offers significant benefits for the industry.

“This state-of-the-art greenhouse facility will help industry maximise its returns through the delivery of new, groundbreaking insights into reducing energy and water costs,” he said.

The facility will have a strong education and training focus, working in partnership with industry partners to provide a student experience, which produces career-ready graduates through involvement in engaged learning, projects and research in their studies.

The spokesperson said there would also be benefits for those already working in the industry through a research program targeted at major greenhouse crop species production.

“This greenhouse and its associated training program will provide learning opportunities for horticultural professionals at all stages of their careers,” he said.

“It will also provide significant resources for the next generation of growers, showcasing that horticulture is an innovative and exciting industry to join.”

Crops grown will be those typically produced using protected cropping in Australia such as tomato, cucumber, strawberry, capsicum, eggplant, lettuces and other vegetables. In the long term, there are also possibilities for high value crops such as herbal and medicinal plants that are beneficial to the Australian horticulture industry and growers.

A special feature of the greenhouse will be the provision for interchangeable greenhouse covering materials, allowing manipulation of plant growth and energy balance. Courtesy Martech Plumbing.

A special feature of the greenhouse will be the provision for interchangeable greenhouse covering materials, allowing manipulation of plant growth and energy balance. Courtesy Martech Plumbing.

Design

The nearest known equivalent greenhouse research facility is located in The Netherlands at the Wageningen University Greenhouse Horticulture Research Institute (WUR).  To ensure a state-of-the-art Facility design, Western Sydney University has partnered with experts from WUR, Dr JC (Sjaak) Bekker and Dr Silke Hemming, for consultation and advice as to the most appropriate design and construction for the University Greenhouse Research Education and Training facility.

The new greenhouse will have a strong education and training focus, working in partnership with industry partners to produce career-ready graduates.

The new greenhouse will have a strong education and training focus, working in partnership with industry partners to produce career-ready graduates.

“This partnership with WUR creates an opportunity for WSU to position itself as a national leader in greenhouse horticulture research and education. This partnership will include staff and student exchanges, joint supervision of postgraduate research students, and assistance from WUR to develop training and education resource material,” said a WSU spokesperson.

“Based on a design from WUR, the WSU Greenhouse will provide high levels of control over humidity, temperature, light and CO2 to deliver higher productivity while lowering energy and water inputs.

“This facility – the first of its kind and scale in Australia – will allow researchers to test multiple conditions affecting the growth of plants in protected crop environments.  The results of this research will be increased crop yields and lower costs to both the producers and the environment.”

Peter Barber (L) Maintenance Manager at Croudace Greenhouses International and site construction manager for greenhouse talks to WSU’s Dr Zhonghua Chen.

Peter Barber (L) Maintenance Manager at Croudace Greenhouses International and site construction manager for greenhouse talks to WSU’s Dr Zhonghua Chen.

Peter Barber, Maintenance Manager at Croudace Greenhouses International – the company appointed for construction of the WSU greenhouse – said that the overall dimensions of the greenhouse facility are 48 m long and 36 m wide (1723m2), which includes eight bays at 108m2 and one larger compartment at 432 m2.

“The eight research bays have air conditioning systems where the larger bay has a wet wall system usually known as a pad fan system. The facility has a Priva growing control system and there are 12km of control cables and approximately 7km of power cables,” Mr Barber said.

“Rain water is harvested from two buildings to a total storage capacity of 270Kl. There is also town water supply as a backup but this would be blended slowly as not to shock plants.”

Research goals

WSU’s Dr Zhonghua Chen and Prof David Tissue have been working in collaboration on the new greenhouse project.

Professor Tissue is an international expert on the effects of climate change on ecosystems. His current research on plant response to changes in global climate primarily considers the interactive effect of elevated CO2 and associated environmental factors (e.g. temperature, nutrients and water) on leaf level physiology and its implications for plant growth.

Research programs will identify optimal CO2 and temperature conditions for crop growth.

Research programs will identify optimal CO2 and temperature conditions for crop growth.

Dr Zhonghua Chen is a lecturer and an ARC DECRA Fellow with expertise in plant physiology and molecular biology. Dr Chen worked as a University Research Associate at the Tasmanian Institute of Agricultural Research (TIAR) and a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Glasgow before joining the (then named) University of Western Sydney in 2011.

What kind of research programs are planned for the facility?

“In the next five to ten years, there will be a range of high quality research programs running in this modern greenhouse facility,” Dr Chen said.

“These will involve a number of areas including: identifying optimal CO2 and temperature conditions for crop growth; identifying fertigation strategies for high yield and optimal recycling outcomes; conducting varietal trials for the protected cropping industry; improving crop quality and human health benefits; pollination and plant protection for protected cropping industry and; utilising crop simulation modelling and developing cost-benefit analyses.”

Current and future collaborations between WSU and WUR include:

WUR provides design and plan the greenhouse build as well as training of WSU staff members

WSU and WUR to set up a joint PhD program to strengthen the research collaboration

The WSU Greenhouse will provide high levels of control over humidity, temperature, light and CO2 to deliver higher productivity while lowering energy and water inputs.

The WSU Greenhouse will provide high levels of control over humidity, temperature, light and CO2 to deliver higher productivity while lowering energy and water inputs.

WUR and WSU to offer a short-term Master class in protected cropping. Modules include growing, managing, and business aspects of greenhouse horticulture.

WSU and WUR to develop joint undergraduate and Masters courses and MoU:  Bachelor Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security at WSU and Bachelor of Plant Science at WUR; Masters of Science – Peri urban Horticulture at WSU and Masters of Plant Science – Greenhouse Horticulture at WUR.

The Greenhouse Research Education and Training Facility Industry Consultation Committee (ICC) provides strategic direction to the research and education programs, as well as providing input into the design phase of the Facility.

From left: Dr Zhonghua Chen, Peter Barber and WSU’s David Thompson.

From left: Dr Zhonghua Chen, Peter Barber and WSU’s David Thompson.

The ICC consists of eight to 12 members, including representatives from the two main stakeholder organisations (WSU and Hort Innovation), influential leaders from tertiary education, vocation and training, government, business, communications and/or community sectors; who are committed to contributing to the Facility’s objectives. The ICC is Chaired by Mr Graeme Smith from Protected Cropping Australia.

The Greenhouse RETF is expected to be an icon for peri-urban agriculture research, education and training at the University.

The proposal brings together the leading plant and environmental science of Western Sydney University with the greenhouse horticultural expertise of Wageningen University Research.

Dr Chen added: “This greenhouse facility is likely to have a very positive impact towards a sustainable food future for Australia.”

More info at: https://www.westernsydney.edu.au/research/centralised_research_facilities/greenhouse_facility  Ω

December 2016 / Issue 174


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