Protective cropping and Queensland melons

Good fruit set of small canary melons grown under protective cropping in North Queensland. These fruits did not detach from the peduncle when they reached maturity.

Good fruit set of small canary melons grown under protective cropping in North Queensland. These fruits did not detach from the peduncle when they reached maturity.

Researchers are exploring the benefits of using protective cropping systems for high-value melons to be grown in North Queensland. Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) horticulturist and project leader, Dr Elio Jovicich, said protective cropping could be the key to opening up diversity in Australia’s melon market.

“Protective cropping involves growing plants under a structure supporting a cover material to create an environment closer to the plants’ optimal growing conditions, to achieve maximum growth and production,” Dr Jovicich said.

“The use of these systems protects the plants from outside risks such as extreme, inconsistent weather conditions, as well as pests and diseases.”

Dr Jovicich said many warm regions of the world successfully grew specialty melon types using protective cropping systems.

“Rockmelons and honeydews are the two melon fruit types most commonly consumed in Australia, however, there is room for more diversity in our market,” Dr Jovicich said.

Melon plants were grown in the Dry Tropics under a protective structure (a high walk-in tunnel) and they were pruned following a particular method to keep the main stem and some of the lateral shoots.

Melon plants were grown in the Dry Tropics under a protective structure (a high walk-in tunnel) and they were pruned following a particular method to keep the main stem and some of the lateral shoots.

“While it is now possible to find piel de sapo (the Spanish name meaning ‘toad skin’) and small canary melons in supermarkets, other specialty melons are generally absent in Australian markets,” he said.

“While several growers in North Queensland have started exploring the potential of growing a greater variety of melon types, yields have been unsuccessful without the use of protective cropping.

“The use of protective cropping has a high potential for improving fruit quality, increasing yield per square metre, allowing for off-season production and supplying niche markets in the Australian melon market.

While many farmers may relate protective cropping to costly high-tech glasshouses with full environmental control, Dr Jovicich explained that this is not necessarily the case.

“There are low-cost and effective systems available for warm environments that can moderate extremes of our variable climatic conditions and lead to high yields,” he said.

“Early trials using low-cost systems have led to marketable yields of up to 2.6 times greater than common yields in the open field.

“We have consistently seen results of two to four high quality fruits per plant using protective cropping, giving yields up to 8 kg/m2.“

Consistent fruit size of galia melons grown under a walk-in tunnel in Giru, Queensland. Yields reached 7.8 kg/m2.

Consistent fruit size of galia melons grown under a walk-in tunnel in Giru, Queensland. Yields reached 7.8 kg/m2.

In addition to melons, the project has included research on specialty capsicums, cucumbers and eggplants with very encouraging early results. Dr Jovicich and his project team will continue to investigate and develop cost-effective protective cropping systems for vegetable growers in warm environments over the coming years.

This project is part of the Pacific Agribusiness Research for Development Initiative (PARDI) with funding from DAFF and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

For more information, call 13 25 23 or visit www.daff.qld.gov.au

Posted 8 January 2015


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