Posts Tagged ‘ conference ’

Flowers 2011

The Australian Flower Conference and Exhibition will be held at the Sebel Hotel in King George Square, Brisbane, from 12-15 July 2011. With a theme of ‘Race to the Top’, the conference will be a forum for industry members to interact with international and national guest speakers who will be presenting keynote sessions and workshops on the latest issues and trends in the industry. A trade exhibition, conference dinner and field tour will also be part of the conference experience.

The conference is designed for both growers and florists and there will be a strong focus on providing attendees with information that has immediate practical and commercial applications for their business.

Keynote and international speakers include: George Staby (President of Perishables Research Organisation, USA); Andrea Caldecourt (Freelance consultant in public relations and communications and recent CEO of Flowers & Plants UK); Will Healy (Senior Technical and Research Manager at Ball Horticultural Company, USA); Frank Scholten (Chrysal International); and Jaap van Staaveren (Managing Director, United Flower Organisation BV, The Netherlands); Topic Highlights Include: The Flower Industry Today and Tomorrow; Industry Promotion; Promotion & Marketing; Post-Harvest Technology; Profitable Solutions; Smart Production; and Research & Development.

For further information and registration:
Ph: +61 (0)7 3824-9537
Email: faqi@flowersqueensland.asn.au
Website: www.flowersqueensland.asn.au

National Conference for Hydroponic and Greenhouse Growers

Protected Cropping Australia (PCA) is holding its biennial conference from 3 -6 July 2011 at the splendid Adelaide Convention Centre, the most environmentally responsible convention centre in Australia.

Formerly the Australian Hydroponic & Greenhouse Conference, this is the eleventh such national conference. In part, Adelaide has been chosen because it has the highest concentration of greenhouses in Australia and many growers are upgrading and expanding.

The conference starts on Sunday 3 July with the opening of the trade exhibition, which covers a wide range of industry trades, including greenhouses, irrigation and climate controllers, movable screens, seeds, fertilisers, chemicals, growing media, propagators, IPM specialists, etc. As well as Australian and New Zealand companies exhibiting, there are also quite a few from Holland. The exhibition remains open for delegates through Monday and Tuesday.

At the time of going to press there were a few of the 60 stands still available for sponsors and exhibitors.

Lectures and workshops are held all day Monday and Tuesday, presented by Australian and overseas experts, many of whom are international leaders in their field. Nearly 30 different presentations are on the program, so delegates can choose from a wide range of topics.

A highlight will be Dutch expert Ben van Onna introducing the impressive Simcom4 environmental control training package. Included will be updates of international developments in greenhouse and hydroponic technologies, biological control, IPM, etc. Following upon the great success of grower presentations at the previous conference, there will be many more presentations by growers giving their real world experiences.

Also covered are interesting newer areas such as aquaponics and organic hydroponics. New and intending growers are particularly welcome and consequently, the program includes a series of fundamental topics to give them all the basics.

On Wednesday, delegates have the option of going on an all-day farm tour, including a visit to the 17-hectare state-of-the-art d’VineRipe facility mentioned elsewhere in this issue.

Networking is a valuable aspect of these conferences, and there are many opportunities to meet other delegates. Lunch and tea breaks are long enough to maximise time with exhibitors, growers and experts. There are also great social functions, where the emphasis will be on networking. A welcome reception will be held on Sunday evening. The conference banquet dinner will be a fun night and has been moved to Monday, instead of Tuesday, so those delegates who can only leave the farm for a limited period can still attend.

For further information & registration contact:
Conference organisers:
Rick Donnan and Rosemary Viggers
Ph: (02) 4567-7960
Fax: (02) 8569-1064
Email: pcaconference@westnet.com.au
Website: www.protectedcroppingaustralia.com

AHGA Conference 09

A video round-up of the 2009 Australian Hydroponic & Greenhouse Association Conference & Exhibition held in Sydney Australia.

Australian protected cropping & hydroponics conference 2011

The 2011 biennial conference of Protected Cropping Australia (PCA) is to be held in Adelaide from Sunday 5 July to Wednesday 8 July 2011.

The AHGA had a recent name change to Protected Cropping Australia Ltd (PCA), because it is the national body representing the full range of crops grown under cover as well as in hydroponics. Adelaide was chosen in part because there has not been a conference there since 1999, but more particularly because it has the most concentrated area of greenhouses in Australia. These range from basic through to new high-tech glasshouses and plastic covered greenhouses.

The conference will be held at the Adelaide Convention Centre, a magnificent state-of-the-art conference centre. The Convention Centre is in the city, close to facilities and accommodation of all standards. The Adelaide Convention Centre prides itself on probably being the most environmentally responsible convention centre in Australia. The City of Adelaide has earned a well-deserved ‘green’ reputation, with a large number of environmentally friendly initiatives and visitor experiences. Renowned for its fine cuisine, South Australia also offers some of Australia’s best wines.

The conference will commence on the Sunday afternoon with the opening of the trade exhibition. In the evening there will be a welcoming function. Monday and Tuesday will consist of a wide range of lectures and workshops. Most of these will be run concurrently so delegates can choose the most appropriate sessions. Presentations will be first-class and up-to-date from experts from both Australian and overseas. This conference will feature presentations from current growers sharing their experiences.

On Wednesday the conference will finish with an optional day of farm visits. These will include high-tech farms as well as state-of-the-art research facilities.

The conference, and particularly the trade show, will provide unique opportunities for sponsors and industry representatives to demonstrate and showcase their products and services, projects and new developments. Conference and trade show updates will be posted on the rebadged website as they occur.

Celebrating more than 20 years as the peak body representing protected cropping and hydroponic growers, the high standard of conference presentations, informative trade exhibits and networking opportunities make this Australia’s premier industry event.

For further information contact:
Conference Organiser,
PO Box 120, Kurmond, NSW 2757 Australia
Ph (02) 4567-7960 Fax: (02) 8569-1064
Email: pcaconference@westnet.com.au
Website: www.protectedcroppingaustralia.com

Issue 110: Feeding Sydney

January/February 2010
Author: Christine Paul

The University of Western Sydney, in association with the UWS Hawkesbury Foundation, recently held its inaugural Hawkesbury Conference where the focus was on challenges that major world population hubs like Sydney face. Against a background of dwindling agricultural land and water supplies, increasing pressure is also being placed on farming systems – what, if any, are the solutions?

Recently, the NSW Government announced the release of 800 hectares of employment land in Western Sydney to create the Western Sydney Employment Area with a capacity for up to 16,500 jobs and expected to eventually accommodate some 40,000 workers. The initiative is touted as a great benefit for people living in Western Sydney and the north-west and south-west growth centres.

However, not all reaction to the news has been positive with critics claiming that the initiative will result in even more pressure on Sydney Basin’s capacity by taking away already diminishing agricultural resources.

‘Feeding Sydney’ was the topic of talks at the recent one-day interactive conference, held at the Hawkesbury campus of the University of Western Sydney (UWS).

Held at the University of Western Sydney, the conference attracted attendees from a wide range of academic and industry backgrounds.

Talks at the conference focused on the issues and challenges facing major population hubs around the world at a time when available agricultural land and water supplies are declining and there is increasing pressure regarding sustainability of farming systems.

A mix of academic and industry professionals also explored possible alternative food supply options together with issues of food security.

Professor Phillip O’Neill (L), Director of UWS Urban Research Centre spoke at the conference as did Dr Gavin Ramsay from UWS Hawkesbury Foundation.

Speakers at the conference included National Water Commissioner Chris Davis (centre) advisor to Federal Minister for Climate Change, Penny Wong.

Professor Bill Bellotti, Vincent Fairfax Chair in Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development UWS spoke at the conference, agreeing with Professor O’Neill that, based on food alone, it might be reasonable to conclude that agriculture in the Sydney Basin is insignificant.

Speakers included Professor Bill Bellotti, Vincent Fairfax Chair in Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development UWS; Chris Davis, Commissioner of the National Water Commission; Professor Phillip O’Neill , Director Urban Research Centre UWS; Tristan Harris, G.M. Buying and Marketing, Harris Farm Markets; Mark Kable, Agricultural Director, Harvest Moon, Tasmania’s fresh vegetable specialists; John Webster, National Chief Executive, Foodbank Australia; and Dr Gavin Ramsay, Associate Head, School of Natural Sciences and Senior Lecturer in Rural Systems and Development UWS.

A grower’s and supplier’s panel discussion also provided a real world insight into the issues associated with the supply side of the equation.

Food security
Food security is determined by the food supply in a community, and whether people have adequate resources and skills to acquire and use (access) that food (NSW Health, 2003).

In the first plenary at the conference, Dr Gavin Ramsay gave a sobering overview of a possible future global scenario in his paper – Feeding the world: Pipe Dream or Possibility?

“The head of the international Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that if food prices remain high, there will be war and other dire consequence for people in many developing countries,” Dr Ramsay said.

He added that the problem could also create trade imbalances that would impact major advanced economies, so it is not only a humanitarian question.

“The issue of food security is growing. China is eyeing overseas land in a push to secure more growing areas for food. Chinese companies will be encouraged to buy farmland abroad, particularly in Africa and South America to help guarantee food security, under a plan being considered by Beijing,” Dr Ramsay said.

“Saudi Arabia is doing a similar thing. According to information from Pakistan Ministry of Agriculture, currently Saudi Arabia is in talks with Pakistan to lease an area of farmland nearly twice the size of Hong Kong in a bid to ensure food security.”

Dr Ramsay also pointed out that Gulf Arab states are heavily reliant on food imports and, spurred on by a spike in prices of basic commodities, have raced to buy farmland in developing nations to guarantee supplies.

In his paper at the conference – Feeding Sydney: A Secure Future for Food? – Professor Bill Bellotti also talked of the “unprecedented uncertainty and complexity surrounding our agrifood systems.”

“The future challenge will be to produce more food from a shrinking resource base with less GHG emissions. But can we do it?” he asked.

“Food security is becoming a huge issue across the globe, including here in Australia. A recent study revealed that 22% of households in disadvantaged localities in Sydney experienced times when they ran out of food and the money to purchase more. Also according to figures from Foodbank Australia, a million children don’t get enough to eat so this is an alarming food security issue right here,” Professor Bellotti said.

Dr Ramsay explored the question of why food is such “a big deal”.

“The world’s population is growing, people are eating more food and often more expensive food (especially animal products). More expensive food uses more resources to produce,” he said.

“We also have to look at the nature of food. More than nutrition, it’s also about vitality and health. It’s also an incredibly important element in social activity. Then of course, it’s also very important for social status, for example, dining in an expensive restaurant shows others you can afford to.

“Also another important element is equity. In western society we eat differently from other parts of the world. We eat, for example, much more processed food and have much more resources available to us than in other parts of the world, particularly in Third World Countries so we’re talking about equity here,” he said.

Dr Ramsay cited several influencing factors responsible for the current world food crisis.

“Firstly, the climate seems to be changing. We are also running out of oil and are turning to biofuel production, effectively turning food producing land into land for houses,” he said.

“We are also destroying agricultural land due to inappropriate practices and we are running short of fresh water.”

In his paper Dr Ramsay also outlined the controlling factors behind the current international food system.

“Features of the system are that it is controlled by both public and private interests and a limited number of companies. It is controlled by the wealthy and is very production focused,” he said.

“Most of world’s population growth is occurring in urban areas of poor countries. These people are very food insecure – they can’t grow their own food. On top of this we are seeing huge changes in the patterns of food consumption, with a massive increase in the consumption of meat.”

Poor get poorer
“Many poorer countries are moving to become net importers of food not exporters. The number of food emergencies is also increasing from 14% to 27% in 2008. Resultant effects of these factors are that the poor and the vulnerable are hit even harder. In the areas I’ve worked in South Africa over 60% of the head of households were girls age 12. Most of this is due to the effects of HIV,” Dr Ramsay said.

“By 2050 there will be 9 billion people on the planet. What then are the implications for feeding tomorrow’s populations?

“All countries cannot be net importers of food. In fact, there are more countries than ever changing from being net exporters to net importers of food, therefore there will be an uneven distribution of food. Some will have too much, some too little.

“Those with too little will generally live in countries with poor governance and this has political ramifications as hungry, dissatisfied people are more vulnerable to political pressures and this will lead to a series of civil disturbances etc,” he said.

“If we cannot distribute food according to our needs now, will we be able to in 2050?

“In terms of food security, rich people (countries) who control resources (and manage them appropriately) are more likely to be food secure – but it is not guaranteed if they need to import food. However, poor people (especially the urban poor), will simply have no food security,” he said.

In his closing remarks, Dr Ramsay addressed his opening question of whether or not we can feed the world.

“It’s a possibility but it’s very much in the pipedream category,” he concluded.

Sydney’s food value chain
According to recent statistics, Sydney will grow from 4.2 million to 5.3 million people by 2030. These extra 1.1 million people will require 640,000 new dwellings with 160,000 of these to be built in the new north-west and south-west growth centres. Outside the growth centres another 60,000 dwellings will be constructed on greenfields lands. Then there is land needed for employment, which involves another 7,500 hectares.

In short, urban growth in Sydney has a large footprint.

“Beyond 2031 we know Sydney will continue to grow. Another million people by 2050 will mean a city in excess of 6 million people, which is large by developed world standards. And there may well be more after that. But these uncertain numbers are pretty much irrelevant,” said Professor Phillip O’Neill who presented his talk – Sydney’s food value chain: A discussion paper – to the Hawkesbury Foundation Conference.

Head of the Urban Research Centre (URC) at UWS, Professor O’Neill said the purpose of his paper at the conference was to “explore what we know about Sydney’s food value chain”.

“While some implications are drawn, its main purpose is to provide a knowledge base for further discussion and analysis,” he said.

“What we know is that Sydney’s food supply system and the basin’s agricultural lands are currently in crisis. The problem is that we know little detail about the crisis, its dimensions, its stakeholders, its impacts and its consequences. What we do know, however, is that there is alarming inattention by governments to the issue, let alone there being policies in the public domain for us to engage with.”

Professor O’Neill said that the task had been hampered by a marked lack of available data on the subject.

“We know little about Sydney’s food supply system. The Urban Research Centre has systematically tried to assemble the story of the task of feeding 4.2 million Sydneysiders. But it has proved difficult,” he said.

“The pertinent question for us to ask today is why was this task left to a group like ours to undertake without funding for labour or data? This neglect by government of basic information gathering is inexcusable.”

Agriculture
According to Professor O’Neill, in 2006, there were just 6,300 agricultural jobs in the Sydney Basin.

“They are located where you would expect, on Sydney’s NW and SW plains and along the orchard and poultry districts of the Central Coast,” he said. “The NSW Department of Agriculture estimates there are about 1,000 vegetable farms left in the basin. The ABS estimates these produce 43% of NSW vegetable production (by value). Poultry producers are also significant, contributing 42% of NSW poultry meat output and 48% of its eggs. Mushroom growers are responsible for close to 100% of NSW fungi supplies.

“But that’s about it. In total, Sydney’s agricultural output is just 8.5% of the value of our state’s total agricultural output, and under 2% of the nation’s total. In other words, aside from selected higher value fresh vegetables, and poultry and mushrooms, the Sydney Basin’s contribution to Sydney’s food needs is as meagre as it could be before you would describe it as insignificant,” he said.

“When the growth centres and other greenfields lands are transferred to urban uses, the NSW Department of Agriculture surveys show that 52% of the basin’s remaining vegetable farms will be eliminated. When this happens, then the basin’s agricultural significance – at least in its present format – will be lost forever, after just 221 years of white man’s custodianship.”

During his talk – Feeding Sydney: A Secure Future? – Professor Bill Bellotti gave an illustration of the farm gate value of agriculture in the Sydney Basin.

“As we can see the farm gate value of agriculture is around $1m with poultry, vegetables and cut flowers accounting for the top production values in the area,” he said.

“Sydney imports more than 85% of its vegetable requirements,” Professor Bellotti said. “And only 3-5 % of our average food energy consumption is produced in the Sydney Basin.”

Professor Bellotti agreed with Professor O’Neill that, based on food alone, it might be reasonable to conclude that agriculture in the Sydney Basin is insignificant.

“However, this does not account for environmental, aesthetic, recreational, and educational values, which are important.

“When community development benefits are valued, a different answer emerges,” he said.

“In terms of irrigation in the Sydney Basin (around 8000 hectares plus) there are competing claims on land and water where farmers are shifting to non-food options, which are more profitable and carry less risk,” Professor Bellotti said.

Freshwater consumption in NSW 2004-05

“Water for irrigation is already scarce, and will become scarcer in the future. So the question is should we prioritise allocation of land and water resources to food?”

In his paper – Feeding Sydney: the Water Question, Commissioner of the National Water Commission, Chris Davies, told the conference that it’s probably going to get drier, and water for irrigation is going to be hotly contested.

He made several recommendations as to the best future management of Sydney’s water resources.

“In the case of irrigation for agriculture in and around Sydney, river and dam allocations will be resolved through WSPs,” he said.

“Recycled water has to be used close to its source, nutrients should be left in water, where possible and urine separation is worth looking at.

“Small-scale irrigated agriculture is possible where sewer mining is permitted from decentralised schemes. Also opportunistically, rainwater or stormwater can be collected,” he said.

Despite the challenges for agriculture in the Sydney Basin, in food and beverage manufacturing, Professor O’Neill said that the food value chain is looking very healthy.

“Here we find over 30,000 jobs, 4000 in beverages (juices, soft drinks and beer mostly) and 25,600 in food manufacturing,” he said.

Food retail
Turning to the food retail sector, Professor O’Neill gave an overview of the major factors at play.

“There are 57,000 food retail workers in Sydney. Retailing jobs follow the population, especially the suburbanised population, especially in the suburbanised malls in and among the suburbanised population, like at Castle Hill, Warringah, Miranda and Penrith. But everywhere else too,” he said.

“Four sub-sectors account for 93.000 jobs, exactly one half of all Sydney’s food jobs: growing food, manufacturing food and drink, and retailing. Remember, just 6,300 of these jobs are in agriculture, producing less than 3% of the value added along Sydney’s food chain.”

Household consumption
“The concentration of employment in food services is reflected in what Sydney households spend their food money on. The standout spending category for Sydney households is meals eaten out and take away food. The next largest spending category is alcoholic beverages. Together these two categories constitute 38% of total household food and beverage consumption, or about 36 times what Sydney spends on its own fresh vegetable output,” Professor O’Neill said.

One implication of our spending so heavily on the higher value added food products and services – that is, where the actual food content makes us an increasingly small portion of what you buy – is that for the overwhelming majority of Sydney households, consuming fresh vegetables grown in Sydney is not an affordability issue. Rather, we choose, or are led, to buy food in other forms.

Summary
Professor O’Neill summed up his presentation, emphasising some major points:

“Clearly, Sydney-sourced fresh food attracts a meagre share of value flows in Sydney’s food economy. Sydney’s fresh food agriculture is threatened not only from diminished access to land and water resources, but also from its poor leverage over food industry value creation and distribution and poor leverage over Sydney households’ food spending patterns,” he said.

“Secondly, in the food market, agriculture has little market power and little capacity for competitive returns. But in the residential land market the food agriculturalist has significant market power and enormous capacity for high returns. Locked out of the food value chain, land-owning farmers instead choose, or are led, to the extraordinary gains available from selling rural lands to those who convert them to urban use.

“Much can be gained in understanding by analysing the food chain in terms of it being a competition between powerful players for the substantial consumer dollars on offer”, he said.

“That said, there is also much to be gained in understanding the food chain by analysing household consumption expenditure and householder food consumption habits. Sydney households in general are not poor. Their potential market power is enormous.”

Future scenarios
Professor Bellotti outlined three strategies for meeting future demands of population growth on Sydney’s food supply.

“The first scenario is the “Passive: Go with the Metro Strategy”. Following this strategy would lead to a further concentration of our food supply chains into a few major corporates and a loss of connection between food consumers and food producers,” he explained.

“Producers would also be forced into a global or national market, receiving low profit margins.

“The second is what I term the “Activist” strategy, which covers many different grassroots community movements,” he said.

“Basically, an activist rejects conventional agriculture, often striving for a high degree of food self-sufficiency.”

A third future scenario is the “Deliberate” strategy.

“This is where food security is taken seriously,” Professor Bellotti said. “It would involve a nationwide coordinated response to the challenge of food security.

“This strategy requires actions at all levels of society from national, state, local government levels to corporate Australia, communities and individuals,” he said.

Of the three strategies outlined, this one provides the best solutions to creating a healthy environment, farms, food and people and is underpinned by an integrated policy, science and practice.

“Food is the great integrator – healthy ecosystems are linked with healthy farms, healthy food and healthy people,” Professor Bellotti said.

“Government at all levels will focus on future food security (supply, access, affordability) while food consumers will be a driving force for change.

“We need to shift from being passive to becoming active food citizens – a citizen who not only has a voice in how their food is produced, but who also may be active in producing, purchasing and preparing their food,” he said.

“Part of this shift would see a strengthening of the relationship between food consumers and food producers, more direct food supply chains and a greater recognition by urban populations of their dependence on rural communities to supply their food needs.”

Issue 85: Challenges Faced by the Hydroponics Industry Worldwide

November/December – 2005
Author: Steven Carruthers

International Conference & Exhibition on Soilless Culture 2005
Fort Canning Gallery, Singapore, 5-10 September

Identifying the challenges faced by the hydroponics industry worldwide is like forecasting the future and requires some ‘strategic thinking’. In the business world, strategic thinking is a process whereby you learn how to make your business vision a reality by developing your abilities in team work, problem solving, and critical thinking. It is a tool used to help you confront change, plan for and make transitions, and envision new possibilities and opportunities. By engaging in some strategic thinking, I hope I can point to some of the challenges ahead for the hydroponics industry.

The sustainable development of the planet and the way we feed and clothe the population are major issues confronting the world today. As a global community, we need to advance our expertise in plant production, food technology, sustainable management of natural resources, as well as how we use the natural environment for recreational activities.

Agriculture and horticulture specialists will face some of the greatest challenges in the 21st century. They will need to assist in the supply of food and fibre products for a growing population that is expected to number 8.9 billion people by 2050 (USAID, 2004). The main challenge will be to supply safe products that are needed for a quality of life while maintaining a healthy planet.

Hydroponic and greenhouse technology, aquaculture and aquaponics, organic and urban farming technologies are intensive plant production systems that are all well placed to meet the challenges ahead. However, the growing systems of tomorrow will be vastly different to those used today. The present day systems, while a step in the right direction, are unsustainable and in the future it will be necessary to develop alternative production systems that are more efficient in terms of water, energy and labour use. Driving the challenges ahead are consumer and government pressures to produce safe, nutritious food in a way that is sustainable and does not harm the environment.

The new global economy and the advent of free trade agreements pose significant challenges for the hydroponics industry worldwide. Cheap products flooding international markets take away livelihoods, threaten the stability of existing fresh food markets, and increase the risk of exotic new pests and diseases establishing in countries where they previously didn’t exist, with serious impacts on important commercial crops and natural ecosystems.

The world is littered with accidental and inadvertent pest and disease introductions owing to bad grower practices, dubious Import Risk Assessments, inadequate management protocols and quarantine inspection failures. For example, the recent arrival of potato spindle virus in Western Australia had the potential to cripple the Australian greenhouse industry had it found its way into the green waste.

Fortunately, it was discovered early and eradicated. Other countries have not been so lucky. Pepino Mosaic Virus (PepMV), which was detected in greenhouse tomatoes in Europe a decade ago, has now appeared in North American greenhouse tomatoes. Other tomato diseases galloping across the globe that threaten commercial greenhouse industries include Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl Virus (TYLCV), which has jumped from Cuba to Florida, and now Morocco, and Tomato Infectious Chlorosis Virus (TICV), which was discovered in tomatoes in California, and has now turned up in Italy.

Closer to home, back in the early 1990’s, western flower thrips found its way into Australia and is now widespread and creating havoc, while more recently lettuce aphid originating from northern Europe, has found its way to New Zealand and brought that country’s lettuce industry to its knees. The lettuce aphid has since made its way to Tasmania, and was recently detected on the mainland, threatening Australia’s lettuce industry.

Quarantine issues will be major obstacles for free trade agreements in fresh food commodities between countries such as Australia and New Zealand that have strict import and food safety regulations. There will be increasing pressure on exporting countries for growers to meet the same exacting standards as Australian and New Zealand growers to ensure the food chain remains ‘clean and green’.

Operators of farming enterprises can no longer see their contribution as a ‘way of life’. They must operate their enterprises as a business, becoming aware of competition, and adapt accordingly. Globalisation is important as producers look to other parts of the world to export their products. As countries develop and more people become educated, the attentions of those people are turned towards ‘quality of life’ issues, which include the quality of the food they eat.

With the rising power of supermarket chains in developing countries replacing the traditional markets for fresh fruit and vegetables, demands are increasing for ‘clean and green’ produce. Consumers demand to know what pesticides and other chemicals have been used to produce their food. In the future, crops will need to be grown without the use of pesticides and fungicides.

Scientists and educators worldwide have responded to this challenge by developing alternative ways of managing pests and diseases in agricultural and horticultural products, such as Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and gene technology, also known as biotechnology.

A major challenge ahead for industry will be to grow crops with a minimal use of safe pesticides. This means developing more disease-resistant plant varieties, discovering a wider range of beneficial insects and other biological control agents, and developing management protocols to control pest and disease problems. Most countries still have a long way to go, including Australia. For example, while there are greater than 30 biological control agents routinely used against about 20 key pests by commercial greenhouse growers in Europe and North America, Australia has less than 10 against the same number of major pests. Strict import regulations means that Australian biocontrol researchers need to identify beneficial insects from within their own environment, and to rear them in commercial quantities at an economical price, a process that can take a decade or more once a prospective beneficial insect has been discovered as the industry can best be described as fledgling. Australia is making progress with the recent discovery of two native thrips predators, which are currently being commercialised for the Australian hydroponic and greenhouse industry. These beneficial insects may also have benefits for other horticultural sectors, especially where western flower thrips is a problem.

Biotechnology will play an important role in developing disease-resistant plant varieties. Gene technology is also being increasingly used to develop fresh food products high in beneficial nutrients that slow or prevent disease. For example, tomatoes are rich in lycopene, which is known to slow aging, prevent heart disease and reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Specialised tomatoes high in lycopene are now available in North America supermarkets. Biotechnology will be used to develop other food crops loaded with beneficial nutrients that promote good human health.

Although recent surveys show consumer sentiment against GM foods is moderating, the debate for and against genetically modified plants is still emotive. Genetically modified foods both attract and terrify us, but the reality is we have been genetically modifying food since two weed species were brought together to produce wheat. The Dutch currently use GM technologies to check the make-up of genes, which lets them advance their breeding selections that would otherwise take many years. GM technology makes plant breeding easier and quicker.

In the 21st century, biotechnology will play an increasing role to produce what is known as ‘functional’ foods. Genetically modified foods may also carry other useful components such as genes to vaccinate consumers against important diseases.

The quantity and quality of water available for farming and, for that matter, urban populations throughout the world, is an important issue. In Australia, water is a scarce resource – the continent is one of the driest in the world. Management of our water resources is paramount to the success of agricultural and horticultural enterprises. Australia can play an important part in determining the most efficient ways of using this resource. Issues such as salinity and water reuse are being confronted, and cooperation from users to policy-makers is being sought.

Hydroponic and greenhouse production systems are water-efficient. Comparative analyses of water consumption show that it takes 160,000 litres of water to produce AU$100 of cotton, compared to 600 litres (best practice) of water to produce AU$100 worth of hydroponically grown produce.

Table 1: Water use efficiencies

Agriculture Sector Litres of water per $100 of output
Rice – 470,000
Cotton – 160,000
Dairy Milk – 147,000
Sugar – 123,900
Beef Cattle – 81,200
Vegetables & Fruit – 37,900
Wheat & Grain – 24,500
Hydroponic Crops – 600

There is also a significant reduction in fertiliser wastage. Using closed systems that recycle more than 95% of the water used, the hydroponics and greenhouse industry has a recognised track record for low water use compared to other agricultural and horticultural sectors. Unfortunately, less than one-third of hydroponic production systems worldwide are closed with most growers still running to waste to minimise disease problems. The challenge for these growers is to modify their systems to recycling technology, and to adopt better practices to manage their crops. Of course, this will also increase the cost of capitalisation, but consumers have shown they are willing to pay a higher price for high quality, safe products.

The export of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the world is increasing. The concern in Australia is that cheap imports don’t meet the same rigorous standards that Australian growers are required to meet. There is clear evidence some imported produce coming in has traces of dieldrin, DDT and cancer-causing organochlorides. There is also a concern about untreated organic waste such as night soil and pig waste being used as fertilisers on vegetables grown in countries such as China for export to Australia.

Industries and governments worldwide are highly concerned about food safety and the harmonisation of agricultural production systems with the environment, and production of future food in enclosed hydroponic production systems seems to offer many advantages. However, recognition and support by governments, or should I say the lack of recognition and support by governments, is a major impediment to the industry’s growth in many developed and developing countries.

Strategic thinking tells us we must look to the Netherlands as the best industry model in order to identify the challenges ahead for hydroponics worldwide. Holland has the most developed hydroponic and greenhouse industry in the world. However, the changing market environment has brought with it many challenges. Until 10 years ago, Dutch growers and their grower organisations under-estimated the dynamic power of the Spanish vegetable industry when it joined the European Community (EC). From 1992 to 1999, Spanish vegetable exports jumped 10% or more per annum. At the same time, the market was changing from a producer-orientated market, where the produce was presented by the producer, to a demand-orientated market in response to the rising power of supermarkets. It has taken a difficult decade for Dutch growers to fight their way back to market dominance.

Under the Dutch auction system, Dutch growers were unable to meet the new market demands until around the mid 1990’s. The Dutch auction system meant supermarkets could only buy uniform products in uniform packaging for a daily changing price that was about the same for every buyer. Spanish producers/exporters were much more flexible, had better packing facilities, and had more direct contact with their clients.

There are many similarities between Spain and Mexico as the cheap producing countries for their northern markets. US and Canadian growers have had to deal with the fast-growing imports from Mexico. In the Asia-Pacific region, Australia is under siege from cheap imported vegetables from China.

The smashing Spanish success of the 1990’s had its origin in good climate conditions, growing long-life tomatoes to acceptable quality using cheap growing techniques in plastic greenhouses and cheap labour. The growing season was also longer. The much lower cost of production compared to Holland, combined with large EU subsidies and the constant devaluation of the Spanish peseta, also made for cheaper Spanish exports.

In 1996, most vegetable auctions in Holland united under Greenery International with the objective of changing the traditional auction system to one where growers are able to influence the selling policy and prices. Those that didn’t join Greenery formed grower associations that sold their own products under specific marketing brands of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and eggplant. These groups were the first to introduce ‘tracing and tracking’ and are still the most active in the market.

A third group of Dutch growers made delivery arrangements with large exporters on a yearly basis. Some of these exporters also formed grower associations to take advantage of EU subsidies for marketing activities.

As a consequence of the European over-production, Dutch growers and exporters searched for new products and far away markets. Rather than focusing on long-shelf life, they started breeding for taste, which led to the development of ‘truss’ or ‘cluster’ tomatoes and coloured peppers now present in North American and Japanese markets. The improved ‘clean and green’ image of Dutch products using Integrated Pest Management strategies has put pressure on Spanish imports, which are now seen to be not so careful with Ag chemicals.

Since 1996, Dutch growers and exporters have developed fixed relationships with clients. By decreasing the number of links in the chain, costs have been reduced. Production costs have also been reduced by enlarging the scale of greenhouse production with improvements in energy consumption. Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand have followed the European trend to enlarge greenhouse operations to supply high quality truss tomatoes to supermarkets all year-round. In Australia, the major growers and wholesalers have formed strategic alliances to spread production over a wide climatic zone to guarantee reliable supply to the important east-coast markets all year-round.

Today, many independent grower associations and groups in the Netherlands have since joined Greenery International. While Dutch growers are more divided than before, they still co-operate in exchanging information and experience. Research is no longer supported by government, but funded by grower groups. The Dutch financing infrastructure is good, and specialised banks understand the vegetable sector and stimulate growth with investments. Dutch growers are now able to meet the requirements of the most demanding European supermarkets. They are also more flexible with year-round and last minute delivery, high quality standards, safe food, certification and ‘tracing and tracking’.

However, there are still many challenges ahead for the Dutch industry. Cost price is still high and productivity increases only by high investments. Dutch growers are also hindered by many rules and regulations imposed on them by the Dutch government and the EU. And of course, with a shortage of locations to build new greenhouses, there is a need to re-organise older greenhouses.

After a decade of reorganisation and redirections, the Dutch greenhouse vegetable industry is on its way back to the top. While Spain still has lower production costs, growers now need to invest in better technology and knowledge to meet the increasing market requirements demanded by supermarkets. This will drive their production costs upward as they feel the threat of cheaper imports from Morocco and Turkey once they have free access to the EU markets. Turkey and Morocco have similar climate conditions to Spain, they have significant low-tech greenhouse industries, and are working hard to meet the requirements to enter the EU. Like the Dutch a decade earlier, it’s now up to Spain to change its direction. Unless Spanish growers change, they will not be able to distinguish their product from the cheaper imports from Morocco or Turkey.

As a global industry, countries with developed hydroponic and greenhouse industries need to share aspects of their technology with less developed countries to produce safe fruits and vegetables in sustainable growing systems. Investments in high technology greenhouses in Spain by Dutch organisations, and similar investments in the Mexican greenhouse industry by Canadian and US growers to fill seasonal gaps in high quality tomato products, points the way for investment opportunities for Australian and New Zealand industry stakeholders to share their technology with less developed industries in Asia.

So, the challenge ahead for hydroponic growers worldwide is to develop water-efficient, sustainable growing systems to supply high quality, safe products that are needed for a quality of life while maintaining a healthy planet. To achieve this goal, the hydroponics industry worldwide needs to:

– adopt recycling technology which offsets the need for soil, water and energy to produce crops and dramatically reduce natural resource use;
– develop new sustainable pest and disease control practices, without pesticides and fungicides;
– invest in food technology research, including biotechnology;
– develop more efficient production systems with smaller footprints and demands on natural resources;
– develop better greenhouse designs and construction materials that optimise climate control;
– invest in renewable energy resources, such as the development of cheaper plastic solar cells;
– encourage industry recognition and support by governments; share technology with less developed hydroponic and greenhouse industries, and.
– develop market access for ‘clean and green’ products.

References:
Leanne Griffin,
Challenging times for vegetable growers
Australian Vegetable Review 2005, AUSVEG.

Roberta Cook,
Emerging Hothouse Industry Poses Challenges for California’s Fresh Tomato Industry
Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics, University of California, Davis.

Dr Mike Nichols,
Greenhouse Designs and Function in the Future
8th Biennial Conference of the Australian Hydroponic & Greenhouse Association (AHGA), Bundaberg, 2005.

Dr Mike Nichols,
Genetically Modified Foods
Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses, January/February 2005, Issue 80.

Louise Jackson,
Horticulture and Sustainable Food Systems
Dept. of Land, Air and Water Resources, University of California, Davis, 2004.

Bob Johnson,
Hydroponic Hurrah: Popularity is growing for produce grown without soil
Vegetable Production and Marketing News, Texas

Agricultural Extension Service
The Texas A&M University System, College Station, Texas, 2005.

Dr Ian Porter,
Impact of global market drivers on the future role of hydroponics in world food production
Hydroponics Farmers Federation Conference, Bendigo, Victoria, July 2004.

Dan Cantliffe and John Vansickle,
Mexican Competition: Now from the Greenhouse
Food and Resource Economics, University of Florida, Gainesville, 2004.

Joe Elbustani,
Science tackles problems for the greenhouse industry
Australian Vegetable Review 2005, AUSVEG 2005

Gerard F.J.
Significant changes in the European greenhouse vegetable industry
Boonekamp (Editor Weekblad Groenten & Fruit),
Canadian Greenhouse Conference, Toronto, Canada, 9 October 2004.

US Agency for International Development (USAID).

About the author
Steven Carruthers is the Managing Editor of Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses, a bi-monthly magazine published in Sydney, Australia, and Vice-President of the Australian Hydroponics & Greenhouse Association (AHGA), Australia’s peak industry body. Steven is the recipient of the Australian Business and Specialist Publishers Association (ABSP) Bell Award for ‘Best Small Publisher of the Year’ in 1998, 2000 and 2001 and was highly commended in 1999. Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses is the recipient of the ABSP’s Bell Award for ‘Best Specialist Magazine of the Year’ in 2000 and 2001. Steven is also an affiliated member of the International Federation of the Periodical Press and author of several books including the bestseller, Hydroponic Gardening published by Lothian Press.

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