This issue marks the 20th Year Anniversary Issue of Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses magazine, a significant achievement in publishing terms. When the magazine began, drip irrigation and water culture in Australia were in their infancy and few had heard of hydroponics. Although soilless culture has been around in one form or another for centuries, to some extent the small publishing team were pioneers in a young industry that was decidedly behind the rest of the world. At the time, the Australian industry was fragmented, caught in an ideological vacuum exacerbated by elitism among growers who were reluctant to share information. In this milestone edition the editor charts the development of the Australian hydroponic and greenhouse industry, the magazine’s contribution to its growth, and its future in the new digital age.
By STEVEN CARRUTHERS
Birth of an industry
Although hydroponics in Australia can be traced back to the late 1930s(1), the birth of the commercial hydroponic and greenhouse industry occurred in the early 1970s. Among the first operations was a lettuce and strawberry operation near the Gold Coast in Queensland, which remained in operation until the end of the decade. The facility covered 0.5ha with lettuce grown in the open on waist-high tables covered with corrugated asbestos cement sheets, which channelled nutrient solution down the corrugations. Plants were supported by a flat sheet with holes laid across the top.(2)
Frank Baguley, a major carnation grower near Melbourne, was another early pioneer of commercial hydroponics in the early 1970s. Following severe crop losses from Fusarium root rot he designed a special polystyrene tray (the Baguley tray), which consisted of two compartments, each with drainage holes low down on the sides to give a reservoir of liquid in the base after watering. The trickle system used crushed scoria as the medium. It proved to be a simple and practical hydroponic system that eliminated the root rot problem, produced excellent carnation crops, and extended the life of the crop to 3 years. Following this success, the Baguley tray system was taken up by other carnation growers in the Melbourne area and gradually spread further afield until the cost of shipping scoria became prohibitive.(2,3)
By the late 1970s news of the nutrient film technique (NFT) developed by Dr Allen Cooper reached Australia and its potential for crop production was enthusiastically proclaimed. Growers in Victoria and southern NSW set up small greenhouses to grow tomatoes for local markets, however, expectations were not realised because most had no knowledge of the management of tomato crops. These operations failed because of disease and insect pests, particularly in heated greenhouses during the winter months. Yields were low and growers could not compete on price with tomatoes brought in from interstate and grown in the field. Most closed down within a few years.(2)