Posts Tagged ‘ Herbs ’

Issue 106: Passionate Producer of Culinary Herbs

May/June 2009
Author: Steven Carruthers

In the face of domestic and global financial uncertainty, one Australian producer of fresh culinary herbs is thriving, expanding its operations to supply an increasingly demanding market.

Cooling the microclimate in the late afternoon.

Freshzest Pty Ltd has reached a new milestone with the construction of a 1ha glasshouse at Caniaba, near Lismore, in northern NSW. While the company has supplied the Melbourne market generally and Woolworths with fresh culinary herbs in Victoria and Tasmania for the past 20 years from its greenhouses located in South Gippsland, the new glasshouse expands the business with the delivery of high quality fresh herbs during Victoria’s winter season, as well as to the Brisbane market.

Freshzest founder Robert Hayes.

The seed for the Freshzest business was planted in the late 1970s when the newly created European Community blocked Australian dairy products. Among the casualties was the Hayes dairy farm on Mornington Peninsula, south of Melbourne. Only son Robert Hayes took over the business in 1976 and immediately set about finding an alternative living for the farm. At first he experimented with organics and biodynamics to grow herbs for the ‘dried’ market as an import replacement, but the farm soon switched to fresh culinary herbs for the retail market. Starting with a crop of basil, in his first week Rob took orders for 400 bunches at 50 cents, the second week he came back with orders for 1,000 bunches at 75 cents, and in the third and subsequent weeks 1,500 bunches at $1. Eight weeks later he walked into the bank and paid out the dairy farm overdraft, then promptly switched banks.

The new 1ha glasshouse in northern NSW expands the Freshzest business.

“They had not treated us well even though the family had been with the bank for over 50 years,” recalls Rob.

In the early 80s he read about hydroponics and the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) developed in the UK by Dr Allan Cooper. By 1982 Rob had started his own R&D in hydroponics, building a small greenhouse in South Gippsland near Leongatha, the site of the current Freshzest operation, experimenting with NFT, flood and drain and sand-bed systems while maintaining a consultancy business in Melbourne. Invariably, when he returned to the farm after long absences he found the NFT crop dead, the flood and drain system either sick or dead, but nearly always the sand-bed crop was alive and healthy.

Growing beds include sand and perlite media.

“The simplicity and the buffer that the sand mass provides meant a crop could ride it out in the event of a power failure,” noted Rob.

Robert Hayes confers with the horticulturist.

Today, the business is no longer just one man’s experimental passion but involves an expanding team of managers, horticulturists, supervisors, administrators, growers, harvesters, packers and sub-contractors. With an integrated Quality Management System (incorporating Quality, HACCP, OH&S and other systems) in place, the company uses every means available to ensure its product range is on retailers’ shelves in less than 48 hours after picking, to established premium standards, freshness, maximum shelf-life and piquancy. Although still a relatively young man, Rob has stepped back from the business to spend more time with his family, but he can’t stop himself from having a hands-on role, helping to tweak the new state-of-the-art glasshouse facility.

Location, location, location
With the rising cost of energy, the main issue for the Victorian operation in recent years has been the high cost of LP gas heating during winter-time production.

“It’s a very expensive business these days given what’s happened with the price of oil,” said Rob. “It was clear a couple of years ago that we needed to establish a northern growing operation for the winter-time period,” he said.

From a carbon footprint perspective it made sense for Freshzest to establish a growing facility in a warmer climate. According to Rob, preliminary anaylsis of the carbon inputs for Freshzest’s two sites, producing herbs in a warm climate reduces the carbon footprint by approximately 80% compared to the Victorian operation, even after the product is shipped to Melbourne.

The key criterion for location was sufficient sunlight to grow optimally through the coolers months of the year, between April and September. The secondary consideration was climate over the rest of the year. This led Rob to analyse solar radiation data, which pointed to several suitable sites in the Northern Rivers region of NSW.

“There were a number of boxes we wanted to tick off on,” said Rob. “Elevation to avoid floods and a good quality water supply were obvious requisites. Sunshine hours and climatic factors were big ones. After pressing the go button it took 18 months to find a suitable property.”

A perfect climate for lemon grass production.

Nestled in a cluster of hills between two mountain valleys, the 18ha Caniaba property includes a large catchment dam, which is also fed by an underwater spring. Two hectares have been approved for glasshouse development, giving Freshzest the option to double its northern production. Previously a macadamia plantation, most of the trees have been cleared in preparation to planting kaffir lime, curry leaf and some larger crops like lemon grass and rosemary to increase the range and volume of fresh culinary herbs. Once established, this in-field production will also assist with general maintenance around the glasshouse, and managing the immediate environment outside the glasshouse.

The glasshouse
The glasshouse is a Faber design similar to the Dutch Venlo-style glasshouse with 8-metre spans, 4.5 metres between the posts or bays, 5 metres to the gutter, and 20% floor to roof area ventilation. For simplicity, Freshzest opted for a laser-guided gravel floor with a 1:300mm fall every 100 metres from one end of the glasshouse to the other.

Shade screens and circulation fans play an important role in climate control.

The internal glasshouse fittings include LS Climate Control aluminium screens, circulation fans, overhead fogging system, and infra-red camera to measure plant temperature. When fully operational, the Caniaba glasshouse will follow European trends and monitor plant temperature to control the internal microclimate.

Plant temperature is monitored by infra-red technology.

“Plant temperature is what we need to focus on,” said Rob. “It’s like taking body temperature when you’re feeling crook.”

Rob Hayes tweaking the Priva climate control system.

An external weather station at roof height measures wind strength and direction, humidity and outside temperature. This data feeds into a Priva climate control system to maintain an optimum internal temperature between 22 and 24˚C.

CO2 levels are monitored day and night.

The vents do not include thrips screens, but Rob wouldn’t have it any other way. While the crop is open to flying pests, the open vents also bring beneficial insects that minimise pest infestations.

“The Northern Rivers region is ‘bug central’. There are more insects per m2 than anywhere else I have experienced,” said Rob. “Any hope of maintaining a bug-free growing environment in this climate is futile,” he added.

IPM scout Karen Morse spreads Monty, a beneficial predator mite.

Since commencing growing operations, the IPM team have discovered a new native beneficial insect that predates on Western Flower Thrips (WFT), an exciting find for Australia where there are few beneficial insects available to growers compared to their counterparts in Europe and North America. WFT is responsible for billions of dollars in crop losses worldwide each year with no effective control in sight. The discovery and promise of the Orrius beetle, and the effectiveness of the IPM program at Caniaba Farm, will be discussed in more detail in our next issue by consulting entomologists Stephen Goodwin and Marilyn Steiner.

Although the region has experienced hailstorms, the new glasshouse is located in a rain shadow, a local weather phenomenon that also minimises cloud cover and increases sunshine hours. In the event of hail, experience has already shown that the 4mm toughened glass will withstand golf balls, but maybe not cricket balls. The new facility is insured by Agricola Crop Insurance for both the glasshouse structure and crop, including lost wages and clean-up costs.

“I couldn’t sleep without it,” says Rob. “Although it comes at a high cost, insurance is essential risk management.”

According to Rob the limiting factor of the glasshouse is the high temperatures in summer.

“We’ve just gone through our first summer and it’s not too bad from a vegetative production perspective,” says Rob. “The problem is more to do with the human population working inside the glasshouse where the climate is hot and humid. Having said that, we have been able to keep the temperature a couple of degrees below ambient using screens, fogging and ventilation,” he added.

Although the glasshouse has been in production for nine months, Rob is still tweaking the climate control system with room to lower summer-time internal temperatures even further.

The glasshouse has created 23 new job opportunities in the region.

The Caniaba Farm has created new job opportunities for locals in the region. The workforce includes a farm manager, senior horticulturist, horticulturist, IPM scout, site foreman, admin and logistics officer, maintenance officer, and 17 staff involved in harvesting and processing.

The growing system
The growing system consists of waist-height benches filled with a proprietary blend of different grade sand. Poly sheets between the sand bed and metal benches prevent corrosion. Each bench is approx. 7 metres in length and 1.5 metres wide. With enough room for workers to go about their tasks, the island nature of the sand beds plays an important role in the IPM program to restrict the movement of non-flying pests.

A typical growing bed in full production.

Freshzest cultivate 15 different herbs for the retail market including this healthy bed of chives.

The irrigation system consists of a series of white poly tubes running in parallel down the length of each sand bed. The built-in turbo flow emitters give an even balance of moisture throughout the sand bed. Runoff solution is collected at the low end of each bench and returned to external recirculation tanks. There are six recirculation storage tanks sited near the dam with a combined capacity of 120,000 litres.

End-to-end sand beds share a single return drain to the recirculating tanks.

The facility has the option to run two nutrient regimes based on crop and R&D requirements. Irrigation cycles are triggered by solar accumulation sensors with max/min cycle times automatically calculated around that. Returning solution is blended with fresh water and fresh feed designed to replace that which has been taken out of solution by plants.

Since growing operations commenced there has been no solution discharge from the recirculation system. Eventually, discharge water will be used on the field crops. To date the only disease problems experienced have been phytophera and alternaria fungus in sage.

“Typical of these things, it’s nothing except that we gave it the wrong conditions by overwatering. We’re now running the sage beds drier and it’s as happy as Larry,” said Rob.

Bunches of herbs are collected by trolley for the washing and packaging operation.

He added that the dam water is very clean with only about 16ppm of sodium and a little bit of iron. Make-up water is pumped from the dam into tanks and chlorinated. Sanitised water is then distributed into storage tanks that supply both fertigation systems, and for general use in the pack house. Roof water is also captured and routed to storage tanks, with two 22,000L dedicated tanks supplying filtered and UV treated water for drinking and kitchen use.

Water storage and recirculation tanks are sited near the catchment dam.

Washing and packaging station after the day’s work.

Final remarks
Freshzest is a passionate producer of culinary herbs where quality, freshness and piquancy are everything. During my visit to the Caniaba Farm in early autumn the new glasshouse was in full production and running smoothly. In these uncertain economic times, if there was any nervousness about the company’s multi-million dollar investment, or the future, it wasn’t in evidence here.

“I’m glad I’m in the real economy,” laments Rob. “We employ people, we grow quality food, and I think there will always be a market for our products. It has its ups and downs, but at this stage I’m optimistic the Australian economy won’t go into freefall like other economies.”

Marketing Manager Jen Westphal is responsible for developing new markets.

According to Rob the global economic downturn has changed eating habits. While the average consumer has gone slightly down market, herbs are still on the weekly shopping list.

“People who were eating out in restaurants a couple of times a week are now going home with a nice cut of meat and fresh herbs to cook up,” says Rob. “They are discovering the joys of cooking again.”

So what is the future for the herb industry?
“The Australian population has gone from Anglo food styles such as bangers and mash to a far more cosmopolitan home cooking style,” says Rob. “That started in the late 80s, accelerated during the 90s, and has continued through the noughties. There are still huge opportunities to grow the herb market,” concludes Rob.

About Faber Glasshouses
New Zealand’s leading glasshouse manufacturer, Faber Glasshouses Ltd, continues to deliver a host of innovations for the benefit of their customers throughout Australasia. Some of the recent innovations include: aluminium gutters, toughened glass roofs, low-iron glass, solid concrete bases, and energy-saving screens. They also have a ground-breaking new nursery glasshouse in development.

Faber produces glass and plastic-clad greenhouses from their sophisticated manufacturing plant in Waiuku, Franklin. The company invests heavily in technology – including robotics and CNC-machining – to achieve consistently high standards for their local and export clients.

Faber’s general manager, Peter Holwerda, says the company’s modular design provides growers with huge flexibility in terms of their ‘limitless’ size options. Faber glasshouses can range from a relatively modest 250m2 up to an impressive 8ha under one roof, which is their largest example to date.

“We have moved towards modular design to give growers greater scalability in their operations,” explains Peter.

“We are seeing a trend towards larger houses – and the economies of scale can be very favourable. It’s often cost-effective for growers to increase the size of their area, given the relatively small increase required in staffing, irrigation and energy needs.”

Peter says all Faber glasshouses are manufactured with the same high-spec features, regardless of size.

“Every glasshouse, with post heights from 3m up to 6m, has the same engineering behind it – so it’s super-strong. Our glasshouses support all types of crops and crop growing systems.”

Faber now provide the latest design in aluminium guttering – that takes up less glasshouse surface area for better light transmission, and requires fewer internal downpipes. They also offer toughened glass for the roof (which shatters in tiny pieces instead of dangerous large shards) for greater safety. For additional stability and permanence, a solid concrete plinth under all external walls has replaced the previous fibrolite panels.

Other Faber innovations include low-iron glass, ideal for winter growing; and shade and energy-saving screens for heat conservation of up to 50%. Another major innovation is Faber’s new nursery design, which is currently in development. Believed to be the first of its type in Australasia, the glasshouse features a glass roof that can be opened 100%.

“This is available in Europe but not in New Zealand or Australia,” says Peter.

“The roof is totally controllable – it can be opened to harden off small plants, and closed to protect them. Because the plants don’t need to be moved in and out of the glasshouse, it offers far less handling along with greater security and protection.”

There has already been interest from local growers in the new nursery design, and Faber reports more details will be released later in the year.

For further information contact:
Faber Glasshouses (Australia) Pty Ltd,
PO Box 290, Lilydale, Vic 3140
Faber Glasshouses (NZ) Ltd,
PO Box 36, Waiuku, NZ
Freecall Australia: 1800 132 237
Freecall NZ: 0800 100 618
Email: sales@apexgreenhouses.com.au
Website: http://apexgreenhouses.com.au/  Ω

PH&G May/June 2009 / Issue 106

Issue 92: Herbs… More than just a bit on the side

January/February – 2007
Author: Lisa Crooks

LISA CROOKS reports on the Second Workshop of the Australian Herb and Spice Industry Association. A major outcome of the workshop was strong support for a Herb Levy for industry research, development and marketing.

Analysing the growth rate in comparison to many other vegetables, herbs in Australia have performed extremely competitively in the market place. With a touch of innovation and some new marketing strategies, there is a whole new playing field out there for the taking.

In early September, the Australian Herb & Spice Industry Association (AHSIA) held its second workshop at the beautiful Hahndorf Resort in South Australia. The workshop programme focused on the market place: “Where it is… and where it is going?”

Hahndorf Resort in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia.

Anita Watts, Glenelg River Rosemary Farm, and Vivek Bhat, Lawie Co Biological Services

Conference delegates Robert Hayes (AHSIA President), Jane Parker, Jude Bennison (UK), Rodger and Jo-Ann Aay, and Liz Minchinton.

The workshops
Tom Rafferty started off the day. Tom has 25 years experience in a wide range of supply chain and marketing roles in Ireland, the USA and Australia. He tells it as he sees it. The main message was: “You decide … get big, get niche, get marketing and supply chain savvy with branding, new channels, and export, or GET OUT!”

Diversity or value adding is a common phrase used today; but what options are out there for the growers? The best way to analyze this is to start with what the consumer is asking for. Does the consumer only want fresh quality Australian produce? Is it just to garnish, or an addition to their favourite dish? Is there a whole new market out there?

Patrick Haynes, marketing manager of Gourmet Garden, who has a role that spans seven countries with a distribution footprint covering 13,500 stores. Patrick pointed out that culinary herbs and spices contain high concentrations of antioxidants and phytonutrients, and provide long-term health benefits that outweigh their short-term taste sensations. So compelling is the evidence that leading Australian and American nutrition and health experts say “the forgotten foods” should be recognised as a food group and included in dietary guidelines and food models. Through their aromatic oils, herbs and spices deliver intense flavours and food satisfaction. Herbs and spices can replace fat, sugar and salt in our food, make vegetables and bland foods like grains and legumes tastier, and assist in weight management by making low fat food more appetizing.

Chinese herbs
To enhance what Patrick was saying we also heard from Brian May, the project officer for Chinese herbal farming, City of Whittlesea (RMIT), who pointed out most Chinese herbs are imported from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Japan. Some Chinese medicines are manufactured in Australia – mainly from imported produce. Most domestically produced herbal medicines that use Australian-grown herbs are aimed at the Western herbal market – few use Chinese herbs.

Chinese herbs are retailed via Asian grocery stores and supermarkets, specialist Chinese herb shops, prescriptions by Chinese medicine practitioners, health food stores, mail-order, and online. There are an increasing number of Chinese herbs being used by Western herbalists, naturopaths, and medical practitioners.

Functional foods
Currently, Professor James Chin is program leader for functional foods and immunology with NSW DPI and is also an industry consultant on prebiotics, probiotics and synbiotics…development of new formulations for intestinal health. James looked at value-adding for the Herb and Spice Industry of Australia, and assigning health promoting functionalities of herbs/spices from being optional to becoming an essential food ingredient.

Mediherbs
Peter Purbrick has been with Mediherb for 19 years and highlighted the current focus for complementary medicine as being an aging population, weight loss, infertility, menopause, thyroid function, liver function, prostate support, immune functions, antioxidants, tiredness/stress conditions, inflammatory conditions, and tonics for males and females. He named the 22 high demand herbs, and also the 20 herbs they are trying to source within Australia.

Herbs in high demand
Celery Licorice
Ginger Bacopa
Chastetree Andrographis
Withania Gotu Kola
Goldenseal Calendula
Black Cohosh Valerian
Eyebright Bilberry
Damiana Gymnema
Chamomille Wild Yam
Saw Palmetto St Mary’s Thistle
Rosemary
Echinacea

Herbs MediHerb would like to source in Australia
Globe Artichoke Mexican Valerian
Skullcap Poke Root
Golden Rod True Unicorn
Passionflower St Mary’s Thistle Seed
Meadowsweet Sarsaparilla
Peppermint Baptisa
Pasque Flower Blue Flag
Ladies Mantle Gentian
Wood Betony Blue Cohosh
Grindellia

Latest developments
Ensuring your herb is grown with the best technology available, AHSIA also included in the Workshop the latest in research and development happening here and around the world.

Dr Elizabeth Minchinton, DPI, Knoxfield. Her principal area is plant pathology with special interests in bacteriology and bacterial diseases, disease management and control, foliar pathogens and diseases, and integrated pest/disease management. Liz presented her findings and outcomes of her parsley project and the book release, Guide to common diseases and disorders of parsley. She also announced that she has just received confirmation for her new project for controlling dieback in Queensland, looking also at salinity issues and biological and other chemical options including resistant and tolerant varieties.

James Altmann is director of Biological Services, a company that produces beneficial insects and mites for the biological control of horticultural pests. James is a partner in Fruit Doctors, a crop monitoring service operating in the Riverland, SA. James presented the Integrated Pest Management concept available to growers.

Jude Bennison is from ADAS, the UK’s largest provider of environment and rural solutions and policy advice. Jude is a world leader in the use of beneficial insects in protected herb crops in the UK. Jude took us through the issues for IPM on protected herbs, best practice guidelines project, and some problems with pests and diseases. She also highlighted biological/integrated control strategies. Her job is ensuring the message gets out to the growers.

Allan Norden (APVMA) and John Oakeshott.

Alan Norden has been involved in the assessment of crop protection products with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) for the past 12 years. Alan’s talk covered current issues relating specifically to AHSIA’s needs. He also outlined the reforms and initiatives being developed to assist minor use industries access safe and effective crop protection products. Herbs currently have 33 permits, with 41 applications under consideration – 10 identified as priority applications.

Towards the future
After a mentally stimulating day, we began the next challenge – looking towards the future for the herb industry in Australia. Herb levies: to be or not to be… After hearing from Stuart Burgess from Horticulture Australia about the procedures and also the pros and cons for creating a Herb Levy, this motion was put to a vote that achieved unanimous support. The Australian Herb & Spice Industry Association initiated the process leading to the introduction of a statutory levy to enable research, development and marketing for the industry. I have included the media release from Mr Robert Hayes, the President of AHSIA:

ASHIA Media release
The Australian Herb & Spice Industry Association (AHSIA) held its Annual General Meeting for 2006 following the annual Workshop, at Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills at 4pm on Monday September 4.

Apart from the usual formalities and after some considerable discussion a motion was carried unanimously, as follows: “That the Australian Herb & Spice Industry Association Ltd initiate the process leading to the introduction of a statutory levy to enable research and development and marketing for the industry.”

The rationale behind the motion was simple – AHSIA is undertaking research and development on behalf of all who participate in the industry, now and into the future. Crucial work such as the applications for minor use permits for crop protectants for herbs, minor use applications for new softer and more effective crop protectants, and the development of new biocontrol agents, are central to all growers and other supply chain participants – wholesalers, retailers (small and large) and ultimately, to the consumer. Allied with this is the need to develop crop specific Integrated Pest Management techniques and protocols and contribute to IPM research. Our domestic crop protection regime also needs to be referenced and where possible harmonised to International Standards so as to enable herb and processed herb exports. As the industry grows and matures, marketing will also become an issue.

This is vital research, fundamental to the industry’s future, and yet it is being carried by a relatively few active players in the industry who contribute both financially and with their time. This situation is not sustainable in the long term, with the introduction of a statutory levy providing a way for the whole of the industry to fund the research and development required, as well as the organization itself. With a professionally run organization, participation from the industry will be far more attractive, than is the current situation where much is done on a voluntary basis, and a few carry the load.

Horticulture Australia Ltd (HAL) made a short presentation to the Workshop and were present at the meeting. HAL is the agency which receives matching government funding and manages the total levy pool on behalf of the Industry. We understand that it is possible for AHSIA to maintain the direction of how the levy funds raised shall be spent – in other words, the industry retains direct control over how the available funds are to be expended. It is possible to have the only currently levied herb, parsley, included in the proposed Herb Levy. The rate of the levy can also be at the industry’s discretion initially, and then requires a further vote for any alteration.

In short, it is possible for AHSIA to seek the introduction of a levy structured in a way and for purposes it sees as the most appropriate for its needs, and retain control of the direction of those funds. It would not have to become a part of the Veg Levy and be lost in the larger industry.

The process for the introduction of a statutory levy involves a number of steps including; a detailed consultation process with the industry, the development of a “voting roll”, an industry vote, developing the “case” for the introduction of a levy and presenting a detailed proposal to the Minister. The proposal is then advertised and objections invited for a 60-day period. Only then will the Minister consider whether to introduce a Herb Levy.

Such a process will take at least 12 to 18 months and perhaps longer if other recent industry experience is any guide. AHSIA cannot simply ask the Minister to introduce a levy, and the Minister may ultimately reject any proposal despite the proposal going through the entire process.

Despite the uncertainties, AHSIA is convinced that the industry urgently needs an industry levy for research, development and marketing. We believe the industry now has sufficient critical mass to fund, via a levy, and with the matching $ for $ government assistance, its current and future R&D and marketing needs. It will ultimately be decided by the Industry and by the Minister – AHSIA’s role will be one of championing and facilitating the process, and that direction has been set by its members. This association is the only active peak industry body representing the interests of the Australian herb industry to Government and taking an active role in shaping your industry’s future growth. AHSIA will now commence the process of developing a proposal to establish a national levy on herbs to be put to industry and then the Minister.

We ask all participants in the industry to join AHSIA or at least participate in the debate along the way. We welcome constructive criticism and input and look forward to your response as the process unfolds.

Robert Hayes
President Australian Herb & Spice Industry Association Ltd

Farm tours
By this stage of the day, we were ready for a drink or two topped off with a delightful dinner served at the Sterling Hotel, while being entertained by the very vibrant local foodie and radio personality, Cath Kerry.

The staff were as friendly as the owners at Murray Bridge – one of 300 glasshouses.

This was just one of the 300 glasshouses; some herbs were in-ground, others were grown in styrene boxes on the ground.

The farm tour the following day took us to two of Aay’s fresh herb farms. Roger and Jo-ann Aay are second-generation farmers that have planted a future for their children. The Murray Bridge farm is where it began – a 20-acre property which now holds 300 glasshouses altogether. In July this year they started the organic certification process for the farm at Monarrto, which is 150 acres and grows 24 different types of herbs.

Chris Weir representing the Murraylands Regional Development Board.

The 150 acre farm at Monarrto in the early start of the organic certification process.

We also met up with Chris Weir of the Murraylands Regional Development Board, who summarised what is happening within South Australia:

Food SA has 12 regions through South Australia. Food SA is a SA Government Agency responsible for food industry development – working with food businesses of all sizes in all regions. It concentrates on implementing the State Food Plan, which outlines the strategic issues of the food industry.

The network is industry driven with ‘food groups’ around the state representing their own region and working on developing their capabilities, but using the whole State to solve issues. Chairs of food groups regularly meet together with the Premier’s Food Council to discuss regional and State issues. Food officers in each region exist as part of the State Plan and regularly meet to discuss issues, develop food groups and regional strategies, and integration of food industry plans into regional economic development plans. There must be a core of passionate, strategically minded people involved in the food groups to get them going and keep them going. Food groups must be run like a business with business and financial plans, vision and a constant stream of energetic people to renew the group.

The Murraylands
The Murraylands Regional Development Board (MRDB) covers a region of some 27,000 square kilometres and produces 40% of the state’s potatoes and onions, 30% of the carrots, and a staggering 50% of milk production, with a new focus on pig production and slaughter. The area is concentrated on large-scale businesses, many dealing with large corporations such as Coles/Bi Lo and Woolworths. Agri-food businesses are worth $816 million per year to the region. Membership-driven programs run in conjunction with five regional councils and Food SA. Large and small businesses, but the large ones are very focused on large clients, and exporting.

There is a specialist manufacturing sector in the region. ‘Exporting the Murraylands’ is working to increase business capabilities as well as working with the other regions to achieve the State Food Plan. A regional brand is in development for use in the project.

The MRDB and Food SA act as conduits to assist the businesses rather than to drive the growth, as this must come from the business within each region but also work with the tourism industry.

The intensive animal industry has identified the Murraylands as one of the key areas in South Australia for growth. The dairy industry commissioned a study to look at farming in the Mallee where there is plenty of quality ground water and cheap land.

The Clifford Report identified prospects for 3,000 jobs conservatively over the next two years in the region with business growth, which includes Aays herbs in Monarrto.

Challenges for the region will include: labour availability, water accessibility for farm operations, and assistance in development of new industries. Future opportunities will include targeting and marketing of regional brands, pig industry development, value-adding particularly in horticulture, and the possible introduction of a regional hub for storage and distribution.

Final remarks
Another milestone change for AHSIA. We now have a talented quality assurance manager that brings his wealth of knowledge onboard to better the industry. Mr Allan Bugg from Barden Fresh Produce, a Sydney-based produce company, stands in my place as one of the Directors for AHSIA. I offer my support and congratulations to Allan. I decided to stand down this year as director for AHSIA as along with the farms and my husband; I have two young boys who still need their mum while they grow into young men. While I will not carry the role of director, I still have a strong desire to help the industry grow and will still very much be involved in many different aspects of the industry.

I look forward to next year’s workshop, although this one will be hard to beat. This conference proved that herbs are more than just a bit on the side.

ASHIA Media release
The Australian Herb & Spice Industry Association (AHSIA) held its Annual General Meeting for 2006 following the annual Workshop, at Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills at 4pm on Monday September 4. Apart from the usual formalities and after some considerable discussion a motion was carried unanimously, as follows:

“That the Australian Herb & Spice Industry Association Ltd initiate the process leading to the introduction of a statutory levy to enable research and development and marketing for the industry.”

The rationale behind the motion was simple – AHSIA is undertaking research and development on behalf of all who participate in the industry, now and into the future. Crucial work such as the applications for minor use permits for crop protectants for herbs, minor use applications for new softer and more effective crop protectants, and the development of new biocontrol agents, are central to all growers and other supply chain participants – wholesalers, retailers (small and large) and ultimately, to the consumer. Allied with this is the need to develop crop specific Integrated Pest Management techniques and protocols and contribute to IPM research. Our domestic crop protection regime also needs to be referenced and where possible harmonised to International Standards so as to enable herb and processed herb exports. As the industry grows and matures, marketing will also become an issue.

This is vital research, fundamental to the industry’s future, and yet it is being carried by a relatively few active players in the industry who contribute both financially and with their time. This situation is not sustainable in the long term, with the introduction of a statutory levy providing a way for the whole of the industry to fund the research and development required, as well as the organization itself. With a professionally run organization, participation from the industry will be far more attractive, than is the current situation where much is done on a voluntary basis, and a few carry the load.

Horticulture Australia Ltd (HAL) made a short presentation to the Workshop and were present at the meeting. HAL is the agency which receives matching government funding and manages the total levy pool on behalf of the Industry. We understand that it is possible for AHSIA to maintain the direction of how the levy funds raised shall be spent – in other words, the industry retains direct control over how the available funds are to be expended. It is possible to have the only currently levied herb, parsley, included in the proposed Herb Levy. The rate of the levy can also be at the industry’s discretion initially, and then requires a further vote for any alteration.

In short, it is possible for AHSIA to seek the introduction of a levy structured in a way and for purposes it sees as the most appropriate for its needs, and retain control of the direction of those funds. It would not have to become a part of the Veg Levy and be lost in the larger industry.

The process for the introduction of a statutory levy involves a number of steps including; a detailed consultation process with the industry, the development of a “voting roll”, an industry vote, developing the “case” for the introduction of a levy and presenting a detailed proposal to the Minister. The proposal is then advertised and objections invited for a 60-day period. Only then will the Minister consider whether to introduce a Herb Levy. Such a process will take at least 12 to 18 months and perhaps longer if other recent industry experience is any guide. AHSIA cannot simply ask the Minister to introduce a levy, and the Minister may ultimately reject any proposal despite the proposal going through the entire process.

Despite the uncertainties, AHSIA is convinced that the industry urgently needs an industry levy for research, development and marketing. We believe the industry now has sufficient critical mass to fund, via a levy, and with the matching $ for $ government assistance, its current and future R&D and marketing needs. It will ultimately be decided by the Industry and by the Minister – AHSIA’s role will be one of championing and facilitating the process, and that direction has been set by its members. This association is the only active peak industry body representing the interests of the Australian herb industry to Government and taking an active role in shaping your industry’s future growth. AHSIA will now commence the process of developing a proposal to establish a national levy on herbs to be put to industry and then the Minister.

We ask all participants in the industry to join AHSIA or at least participate in the debate along the way. We welcome constructive criticism and input and look forward to your response as the process unfolds.

Robert Hayes
President
Australian Herb & Spice Industry Association Ltd

Issue 82: IPM Practices for Outdoor Growers

May/June -2005
Author: Michael O’Dea

Following a cancer scare, MICHAEL O’DEA moved to south-east Queensland where he established an eco-friendly, outdoor hydroponic facility, adopting IPM practices and biocontrols to grow pesticide-free lettuce, herbs and Asian greens for the health food market. His story first appeared in the November/December 2004 issue of Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses. Here, the grower gives us an update.

Well, 10 months later;how did we go? What were our goals and did we achieve most of them? To answer the first question, it is necessary to review our objectives, which are best summarised in an article authored by Dr Porter and published in Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses (Impact of Global Market Drivers, Sept/Oct 2004). This article highlighted a number of issues that will influence future food production practices worldwide.

In his article, Dr Porter said that in the future, food will be produced using very different technologies than are used today. “Public concern over food safety (particularly chemical residues) and environmental flow of pesticides and nitrates into the environment are having a huge impact on crop production systems,” he said.

Dr Porter pointed to water conservation and water use efficiency as other major problems facing the world and, of course, is a major issue here in Australia. He also points to energy audits on production and anti-GMO sentiment as market drivers that will force growers to conform to stringent quality assurance guidelines to meet food and environmental safety standards;standards that are already embraced by many northern European countries. “In the next decade, ‘clean and green’ will mean zero pesticide residues in food and will require proof that crop production practices do no harm to the ecosystem, otherwise growers will face the prospect of environmental tariffs,” Dr Porter said.

A GROWER’S EXPERIENCE
We figured that people have to eat and they will want nutritious, pesticide-free food. We attended a nearby Saturday morning grower market on the Gold Coast for three weeks and we sold out of our product very quickly. The consumer reaction to the pesticide-free, no soil organisms, no herbicide concept was really positive, and it gave me a chance to explain to customers that we were not organic, but a viable alternative.

Unfortunately, the other growers didn’t see it that way and complained we had taken a lot of business away from them (which was true). The market organisers decided to listen to these growers;not the customers. We were not invited back.

Marketing-wise, a lot of what we did was guesswork. We knew we could grow a good product because we had undertaken formal training at Burnley College, Victoria, and had 20 years experience as commercial growers. What we did not have was knowledge of the varieties the market wanted, which meant we wasted time growing the wrong varieties. It also took some time to grow the right crop to suit the climate. We are still learning. As Rick Donnan has said many times in his column, Reader Inquiries, hydroponic technology represents only 10% of skills required to grow a marketable crop;the other 90% is based on knowing your crop and having the growing skills.

We now deal with a wholesaler at Rocklea Market, Brisbane, and a supermarket chain. We also supply restaurants direct. In a way, that suits me fine as we no longer spend all day at a market, which can be time-consuming.

WATER-USE EFFICIENCY
The majority of hydroponic growers know how efficient hydroponic systems are in terms of water and fertiliser use. In our case, we use 700 litres of water to produce $100 worth of produce as opposed to the scandalous 750, 000 litres of water to produce $100 worth of rice. As well as the usual fertilisers, we add in our own organic ‘herbs and spices’ to get optimum crop health, and we do not dump water every so often.

We use town water which is chlorinated. Our water quality is atrocious and hovers around EC 0. 8-1. 2 – the water contains a lot of dissolved solids. In spite of the handicaps, we still produce an excellent product.

Our water and fertiliser costs are small. There is also no run-off into the environment – we recycle the water. If we need to bleed solution, we irrigate fruit trees and potted herbs.

Hydroponic and greenhouse growers have many advantages over traditional soil growers. I can’t see why hydroponic growers need GMOs, because we do not need to weed, and we can spray on friendly Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to aid in controlling a number of harmful insects, if we need to. We do not need to use ozone depleting methyl bromide – our production level per sqm is far higher than can be achieved by growing in the ground. We use very little in the way of pesticides, and hydroponic growers are allowed organic inputs, such as Eco Oil and soap sprays to counter insect pests and diseases. We grow our crop in polyethylene channels;we do not use PVC.

NO PESTICIDE TOLERANCE
In Europe, especially in Scandinavia, many crops are grown hydroponically without the use of pesticides using biocontrols to keep pest problems in check. Water and nutrients are also recycled.

Our objective at the Squeaky Green farm is to avoid the use of toxic chemicals on the vegetables we grow to give consumers a pesticide-free product. To achieve this, we use biocontrols to keep most of our pests under control. We release hypoaspis predatory mites every fortnight to keep fungus gnats and thrips under control. We were given some rove beetles ages ago by Biological Services in Loxton, SA, to control fungus gnat, thrips and shore flies, and we still see these beetles in the media when we are working around our crop. We keep a constant look out for pests in the crop and eveyone who works at Squeaky Green monitors the crop for pests and beneficials during their work routines. A daily record is kept of the status of the crop, where beneficials are released, and where pests are found.

Because we use friendly bugs, they put a constraint on what we can use in the way of sprays. If we have to use sprays, then they have to be biorationales. We did start off by using pyrethrums, which are an allowed organic input, but we found it tends to knock off beneficials as well as insect pests.

We have found we get a very good influx of aphidius parasitic wasps to control aphids (Myzus persicae). We also get a variety of ladybird (Hippodamia convergens) that feed on aphids. We are exploring the possibilities of growing banker plants to keep a population of parasitic wasps on hand.

We have found ants are our biggest problem – the ants farm the aphids for their honeydew secretions. We use boric acid and sugar as a bait, and greasing around the legs of the tables tends to keep the numbers down.

As far as the aphids are concerned, if we keep a careful eye on our Asian veggies, we know where the aphids are and we can get rid of them by spraying them with Eco Oil. I only use a small pack to spot spray hot spots. We did get some large brown aphids (Uroleucon sonchi) on our lettuce in the winter months, but they seemed to disappear by spring.

We also release green lacewings fortnightly and they do a great job of cleaning up anything they can get their fangs into; including my arm.

Micheal and Jant O’Dea inspect the crop for pest.

I have seen a few whitefly on our sticky traps, but numbers have never increased, so maybe the lacewings are eating any nymphs. We have a resident population of brown frogs in our flood and drain trays.

I think our worst problem is going to be Rutherglen bugs (Nysus vinitor) in late spring/early summer. We struggled with them in 2004. Many conventional growers have the same problem. Complete exclusion is possible but it restricts the air flow around the crop too much. Has anyone got any help on this topic? I have talked to a number of entomologists in the IPM area and they all tell me Nysus vinitor is very hard to control biologically, as are mirrids, another sucking insect. I do have some strategies in mind, such as growing a trap crop which I can use to attract the bugs away from our veggies.

The Vortex Bug Bin light trap is most effective inside the netting

Lepidopterous caterpillar pests are not a problem for us as we use netting, and we also use a Vortex Bug Bin light trap. We started off by putting the light trap inside the netting, but we have since moved the trap just outside the netting. This device has proved invaluable to us because it traps so many bugs. I do not know all the bugs it traps but I did have a talk to Dr Richard Drew at Griffith University, Qld, who has worked with the light trap. He is enthusiastic about its ability to trap bugs of the crop-eating kind.

This innovative product has enormous potential in many areas of crop production including vegetables, turf, macadamias, lychees, cotton, and anywhere where the Coleoptera beetle and Lepidoptera caterpillar are a problem for growers. Redlands nursery just outside Brisbane has used the Vortex light trap for four years and they say they could not do without it now.

According to evaluation tests carried out by CSIRO Entomology at the Australian Cotton Research Institute, Narrabri, NSW, the overall results of the Vortex light trap were positive. The data shows that Helicoverpa caterpillar densities were substantially reduced within and around the array of Vortex light traps. It must be stressed that this work only involved two fields over part of a single season. Such unreplicated experiments require cautious interpretation because other (unknown) factors could contribute to the differences shown. The CSIRO study showed promising results, but it also highlights the need for careful evaluation in the future.

The Squeaky Green farm specalises in pesticide-free Asian herbs and lettuce.

LABELS ON FOOD
‘Clean and green’ will mean zero pesticides in fresh produce with no harm to the environment, and some kind of proof to show that these standards are achieved. Labels on food to indicate that it is produced in a sustainable way is one way to demonstrate proof. For example, in Belgium, over 2,000 growers market under the Flandria label, where the motto is ‘Quality Vegetables – Approved by Nature’. In Australia, Freshcare does address grower accreditation to some extent.

FINAL REMARKS
So far, we are not really emphasising the fact that the Squeaky Green farm is pesticide free. I need more time to find out how far into the season we can go with no pesticides. We have had to use azoxistrobin to treat small amounts of septoria and pythium.

We use a bio-friendly trichoderma fungi in the water to suppress disease organisms and it appears to work really well. I have a microscope and I can diagnose the most common fungal pathogens by the shape of the spores. On the subject of diagnosis, I use a 12x magnification lens, which I bought off my optician, to identify insect pests and diseases.

We had a touch of albugo (also known as white rust) on the Asian greens. It only appeared on one plant variety and we have stopped growing this crop until the weather conditions are no longer conducive to the disease.

Our quality has been excellent all the way through the season and we have gained sales by having a better quality product than the ground growers. By the end of the year, in time for summer, we will have 5,000 sq. metres of production area.

What we do need is like-minded growers to try and achieve ecologically sustainable standards and to put together a label that consumers will recognise.

For soil growers, there are some encouraging technologies being used to conserve water and nutrients. Dr Richard Stirzaker from the CSIRO has invented a soil probe which enables ground growers to monitor nutrient usage where water is in the soil profile. The device is called FULL STOP and can be used to give precise water and nutrient doses. Mulch techniques have also been developed to avoid disturbing soil profiles. By growing a cover crop, the resulting problems of bare earth can be avoided.

It is up to us as growers to start to implement sustainable growing systems, and here at Squeaky Green, we have a lot of answers to the problems we have experienced so far. It would be good to get some kind of Internet chat room going for likeminded growers.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I would like to thank my wife Janet and daughter Nicola for helping to achieve our goals. Without their eagle eyes, we would not be able to be Squeaky Green.

For further information contact Michael O’Dea at email: greennem@netlink.com.au

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