No one-size fits all

Our story on hydroponics in India in this issue is a microcosm of hydroponic and modern greenhouse development worldwide. It highlights no one-size fits all. Every country and region has unique environmental, economical, market, political and cultural influences that shape industry development. Local resources, micro-climate and market forces are key factors that determine what crop to grow, the type of growing system to use, and the greenhouse design.

Although India is a late-comer to modern hydroponic and greenhouse technologies, there are similarities to the embryonic years of the Australian protected cropping industry—lack of information, little government support, and charlatan ‘turnkey’ operators making unrealistic claims. In the end, these were the factors that helped bring growers together to form a national association, to dispel the myths, share information and ideas, to touch and feel the latest technology, and to network with respected industry experts.

In India, there are no grass-root grower links and the Internet is playing a significant role filling the information gap, as well as changing the mindset of traditional growers. There are several Indian installation and equipment suppliers accessible from the Internet, some offering educational schemes and turnkey solutions. Similar schemes in the North American and Australian markets have been spectacular failures. Looking forward, India will emerge as a strong industry able to contribute to the food bowl of the country’s billion-plus population, as well as expand its export floriculture industry.

In this issue, PH&G talks to two Indian growers, one who is about to adopt hydroponic technologies; the other a long-time traditional polyhouse farmer who has made the switch to modern growing systems. Their stories give an insight into the development of India’s hydroponic and modern greenhouse industry: the challenges ahead as well as the main obstacles slowing its growth.

This story is a reminder of Australia’s early industry development and the challenges it faced in greenhouse design and climate control to grow a range of fruit and leafy crops in temperatures ranging from tropical to freezing. There was no one growing system or greenhouse design that worked across all crops and climates. With little information and government support, growers developed their own systems from reading books, and trial and error. Along the way growers have benefited from Dutch technology tweaked for Australian conditions, but there have also been many Australian innovations. So, too, we can expect new innovations to emerge from India as the industry develops.

Australian growers came together for the first time at a conference held on the Gold Coast in 1990, and from that point forward the industry has grown from an estimated $25 million to $1.3 billion plus at the farm gate per annum. The industry’s 12th conference and exhibition will be held at the Pullman Melbourne, Albert Park, Victoria, from 28-31 July 2013. This will be another opportunity for growers to come together to share the latest growing information and technology. This biennial conference and exhibition is the largest hydroponics and greenhouse industry event held in the Southern Hemisphere and is attended by many overseas growers, suppliers and industry experts. This year’s conference will have a strong focus on flowers, leafy greens and herbs, fruiting crops, and aquaponics.

Unlike most horticulture conferences on the Australian calendar, there is always an excitement about this event, a chance to network, to meet new growers and traders, and to renew friendships. For those green thumbs attending the conference and planning an extended stay in Melbourne, in this issue we feature five beautiful gardens to admire in the cultural city.

Steven Carruthers

PH&G July 2013 / Issue 133