Posts Tagged ‘ tomato ’

Issue 118: ‘Truss Me’ Tomato Campaign

The newly launched ‘Truss Me’ campaign sees the coming together of some major industry players to boost consumer awareness of vine-ripened, hydroponically grown tomatoes.

By Christine Paul

Truss tomatoes are sold on the vine or ‘truss’ – the longer a tomato is left on the vine, the sweeter and tastier it is. The tomatoes are easily identified by their green truss, which acts as a mark of freshness. The tomatoes should remain on the truss until ready to be consumed, as the truss continues to feed water and flavour into the fruit, maximising its juiciness and taste.

High in lycopene – which research suggests may reduce the risk of prostate, pancreatic and cervical cancer – truss tomatoes also contain calcium and vitamins C, E and A, minerals and vitamins that help the body to absorb iron and contribute to healthy skin, muscles, hair, bones and teeth. The tomatoes are also a good source of fibre, which is known to benefit the digestive system as well as lower cholesterol.

This autumn, leading truss tomato growers d’VineRipe, Moraitis and Blush have increased production to keep up with increasing demand for flavoursome, high quality tomatoes. Truss tomatoes fill the bill for this demand from consumers for quality and have an excellent reputation for being full of flavour, albeit they are sold at a slightly higher price than their field-grown counterparts. However, it’s a price that most increasingly foodie-conscious consumers are willing to pay in their quest for premium produce.

In an innovative joint initiative, three of the major players have teamed up to launch a new campaign – ‘Truss Me’ – in a bid to increase consumer awareness and education about truss tomatoes as well as drive sales.

At the initial round of discussions, another industry leader, Flavorite, was also considering its move to join the three companies spearheading the ‘Truss Me’ campaign. The company has, however, since decided against doing so, citing costs of promotional investment and other factors as a deterrent.

Tomato Endeavour RZ sets a new benchmark in the heated truss segment

The heated greenhouse tomato in Europe has seen steady growth in the large truss segment according to Phil Ritchie, protected cropping advisor for Rijk Zwaan Australia. Like the USA and Canada, Australians have been enjoying large truss varieties for many years while growers have been working hard to find varieties that can perform consistently with the extreme and variable Australian climate.

Following outstanding success in North West Europe, Rijk Zwaan have introduced an exciting new truss tomato variety called Endeavour RZ into the Australian market.

“Endeavour RZ represents a change to a more generative variety from Rijk Zwaan with this variety having exceptional setting ability and sufficient plant strength to maintain consistent fruit size through the season,” says Mr Ritchie.

“Endeavour RZ is a plant that is very well balanced and as a result requires a lower labour input. It is also suitable for both winter and summer plantings. The trial results we are getting from our trials all over Australia and New Zealand regarding fruit quality and truss shape of Endeavour is typical of the high standard we expect from Rijk Zwaan,” he added.

Growers visiting the Protected Cropping Australia Conference in Adelaide will be able to meet Phil Ritchie who recently hosted a visit by their International crop adviser for the large truss segment, Gaston Jacobs, who is well known to many visitors to Europe. Phil, who is based in Sydney, also has a lot of experience in hydroponic lettuce production and he is keen to update visitors on the new fresh lettuce range.

Mr Ritchie says Rijk Zwaan have continued to develop the Salanova range of lettuce and remain market leaders in the type of lettuce leaf available for the fresh and processing markets.

For further information contact:
Rijk Zwaan Australia,
PO Box 284, Daylesford, Victoria 3460

Katunga Fresh

When it came to moving their family and hydroponic growing operation to Australia, native Hollanders Peter Van der Goor and his wife Marjan didn’t hesitate. Today the Van der Goors run Katunga Fresh, a succesful tomato growing operation in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley.

Issue 88: Bumblebees for Pollination of Greenhouse Tomato Crops in Australia

May/June – 2006
Author: Steven Carruthers

STEVEN CARRUTHERS provides an update on the Australian Hydroponic & Greenhouse Association’s application to import bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) onto the mainland to pollinate greenhouse tomato crops Crops in Australia.

Following a review period of 40 business days on the Department of Environment and Heritage (DEH) website to allow the public and industry stakeholders the opportunity to comment, the Australian Hydroponic & Greenhouse Association (AHGA) plans to proceed ahead with its application to allow the import of bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) on to the Australian mainland to pollinate greenhouse tomato crops.

The industry’s application to import bumblebees follows an eight-year investigation including a three-year Environmental Impact Study (EIS) following a national workshop to identify all the issues of concern to various groups, and an independent ‘Climex’ study to identify possible impacts on the Australian mainland. The AHGA engaged one of the world’s leading bumblebee experts, Dr Don Griffiths, from the United Kingdom, whose definitive study of all the key questions posed by both sides of the argument concludes with the following statement:

“If one considers all the facts given, then the case is clearly made to permit the commercial introduction of Bombus terrestris onto mainland Australia.”

Bumblebees were accidentally introduced into Tasmania in 1992. Although they have spread throughout the island State, studies have shown that they are mainly found in urban areas rich in imported floral species, the preferred plants of bumblebees. The EIS study found no adverse impacts to warrant their exclusion from the mainland to pollinate commercial greenhouse tomato crops.

“Bumblebee technology is available to almost every country on the planet except Australia.”

Currently, growers pollinate their tomato crops three times a week using mechanical hand-held vibrators touching each plant. The industry estimates that it costs Australian growers $25,000 to manually pollinate 1 hectare (10,000sqm) of tomatoes, against $7,000 for bumblebee pollination, a saving of $18,000 per hectare. This is a 72% saving or in excess of $8 million annually industry-wide, as well as improving tomato yields, quality and shelf life. Without bumblebee technology, Australian greenhouse tomato growers say they will be unable to compete with cheap tomato imports.

“Bumblebee technology is available to almost every country on the planet except Australia,” said AHGA President, Mr Graeme Smith.

“Pressure from NZ imports, with recent approval for importation of Dutch produce, and with Chinese imports on the horizon, means that if the industry hopes to match production standards with our international competitors, all of which use bumblebees, then access to this technology is mandatory.”

Mr Smith said: “The industry is not proposing to release bumblebees into the Australian environment. They will be confined to sealed greenhouses within hives specially fitted with a queen excluder device that allows only non-breeding worker bees into the crop. The technology is currently used in the USA and Canada to prevent the eastern bumblebee species, Bombus impatiens, from establishing in the west of that continent.

“On the basis of existing knowledge and climate restrictions, in the unlikely event of escape or accident, the AHGA predicts any chance of bumblebees establishing in Australia’s harsh environment to be very limited and transient,” said Mr Smith.

“Spurious claims that bumblebees are another cane toad or fox are clearly false.”

According to the industry’s research, bumblebees prefer exotic (introduced) plant species (90%), compared to native species (only 10%); therefore, there is little likelihood of any competition for floral resources.

Mr Smith added: “Spurious claims that bumblebees are another cane toad or fox are clearly false,” and he cited many positive examples of species imported into Australia such as the leafcutter bee, European honeybee, sheep, cattle, brown trout, and even the dung beetle without which inland Australia would be a mess. While Australia has its own native dung beetle, it simply can’t cope with the tonnes of dung expelled by imported animals on a daily basis. The dung beetle is also a friend in the cities of Australia, ridding parks of tonnes of dog droppings that occur every day.

Returning to bumblebees, the AHGA proposes to import only certified pathogen and parasite-free bumblebee stock from reputable producers. Mr Smith said that any parasite or pathogen that has been associated with Bombus terrestrisis unique to bumblebees and poses no risk to Australian honeybees or native bees.

“Despite the gloom and doom scenario painted by a few individuals, no adverse effects have been shown there.” (in Tasmania)

The industry’s detailed report points to previous releases of bumblebees on the Australian mainland in the 1800’s and 1900’s that failed to colonise. Although there were no studies conducted on these releases, Australia’s harsh climate and lack of all-year-round floral resources, are thought to be contributing factors why they didn’t colonise. In their native distribution range, bumblebees are only found between latitude 60°N and 30°N, which helps explain why they have established in New Zealand and Tasmania which enjoy similar climates. Ants are also thought to be a contributing factor for the failure of previous bumblebee releases on the mainland to colonise. Unlike honeybees that build their hives above the ground, bumblebees are ground nesters, usually in damp areas.

In the event that bumblebees do establish on the mainland, an AHGA-funded Climex study indicates that any distribution will be confined to the cooler, wetter areas and limited to Victoria, just over the NSW border, and the southwest corner of WA.

“First reported sightings of bumblebees in Tasmania, which has a much more suitable climate, were around 1992,” said Mr Smith. “Despite the gloom and doom scenario painted by a few individuals, no adverse effects have been shown there.

“Bumblebees have been present in New Zealand for over 100 years, and are popular with farmers and public alike. Over this time there have been no definitive examples of any negative effect on that country’s native flora and fauna, and reports of a negative impact in Israel and Japan are false, having been based on poor and limited research,” said Mr Smith.

“The threat to the survival of the Swift Parrot has everything to do with land clearing, wood chipping and habitat destruction.”

Mr Smith added that any threat to endangered Australian birds is pure speculation. While there has been some suggestion that bumblebees are a threat to the survival of the Swift Parrot, the EIS has shown a low bumblebee visitation rate (2%) to favoured blue gum flowers, compared to 56% for honeybees and 25% for birds.

“The threat to the survival of the Swift Parrot has everything to do with land clearing, wood chipping and habitat destruction,” he said.

Overseas experience has shown that bumblebees work long hours and have a high flower visitation rate, around 450 flowers/hr. They buzz pollinate, can tolerate the physical conditions existing within a commercial greenhouse, are housed in trouble-free hives suitable for delivery to growers, breed in sufficient numbers to provide the correct ratio of bees to open flowers (240,000 flowers/ha/week), and are available 52 weeks per year.

“Can they (blue-banded bees) be reared cost-effectively, 52 weeks a year?”

Mr Smith said that while native bee research is encouraged, the industry must be practical. Current research to develop a commercial solution using native blue-banded bees is now in its third year, and still a long way from developing economically viable commercial hives for pollination.

“Will this ever be accomplished, and if so, in what time frame 5, 10, 20 years,” questioned Mr Smith. “Can they ever hope to meet the requirements of a rapidly developing and expanding high technology industry? Can they be reared cost-effectively, 52 weeks a year? How much research money will be needed, with the possible result of no suitable alternatives at the end of it all?”

Although native bee researchers have been successful in breeding small numbers of blue-banded bees using clay and brick mortar nests in the greenhouse, it is not economical to ship mortar hives around the country. Researchers speculate that growers will maintain mortar hives within their greenhouse, which will be replenished regularly; however, the growers I have spoken to say they are simply replacing one labour cost for another and it is unlikely they will maintain permanent hives. By comparison, bumblebees are delivered in cardboard boxes which come with feeders for the life of the artificial hive – for bluebanded-bees, growers will be required to replenish feeders strategically located throughout the greenhouse. For bumblebees, all the grower is required to do is position the hive and open the cardboard entry/exit flap.

There is also a concern about the unusually large breeding area (5,000sqm) required to supply the entire hydroponic greenhouse tomato industry with fresh native bees on a monthly basis. The industry is currently going through expansion with at least another 24 ha of greenhouse production area due to come online during 2006. Presumably, this breeding area would need to expand to meet the future demand of the industry.

There are still many questions to be answered, and no certainty researchers will be able to deliver a commercially viable native bee alternative to bumblebee technology; if at all.

The AHGA believes it has a strong case for allowing the distribution of secure hives of B. terrestristo mainland greenhouses, and it hopes that the misinformation campaign against bumblebees will not prejudice the final outcome. To date, conservationists have been running a strong campaign against the application and they have succeeded in having the bumblebee listed as a ‘Key Threatening Process’ in Victoria and NSW; however, the Federal Government declined to support their application due to “insufficient evidence to support the claim”.

There have been public claims reporting that bumblebees are a pest in other countries, whereas a search of the scientific literature shows that the bumblebee is not regarded as a pest anywhere in the world. ABC Landlinealso incorrectly reported (12 February) that the Australian Quarantine InspectionService (AQIS) had already rejected an application to import bumblebees, when the application submitted by the AHGA is still with the DEH and has not yet been passed on to AQIS. These incorrect reports should be of real concern to industry for the success of its application.

Cost:benefit calculation
Bumblebees are very efficient pollinators. They can deliver up to a 28% increase in production in ideal conditions, at a cost of only 1% of production. If we assume even 10% improvement, then growers can make their own calculations:

Greenhouse size x Average Yield per m 2 x Average Gross Return per kg x 10% = improved yield by bumblebees.

Sample calculation for 4000sqm:
4,000 x 45kg/sqm x $3.00 x 10% = $54,000
Plus labour savings above – 4,000 x $1.80 = $7,200
Total saving = $61, 200

NOTE: These costings do not factor-in improved working conditions and worker safety that can flow on from the use of bumblebees.

About the author
Steven Carruthers is the Managing Editor of Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses magazine and Vice-President of the Australian Hydroponic & Greenhouse Association. Email:  Ω

PH&G May/June 2006 / Issue 88

Issue 84: Current Consumer Attitudes Towards Tomatoes

September/October -2005
Author: Dr Sophie Parks & Dr Suzie Newman

How do Australians currently perceive tomatoes in the market place? This is an important question for the greenhouse industry at this point in time because hydroponic tomato products now have a strong presence in the market place. Understanding tomatoes is one way of identifying areas for industry improvement. To attempt to quantify consumer attitudes towards available tomato types, researchers from NSW DPI recently carried out a consumer survey in Sydney. Significant findings from this work are reported here.

About the survey
The survey was carried out over four days in June this year. Four supermarkets and four fruit and vegetable stores were randomly selected from the North Shore of Sydney. Twenty-five shoppers were interviewed in each store, near the tomato section, providing 200 respondents in total. Twenty questions were asked and the questionnaire took between 3 and 5 minutes to complete. The questions asked were designed to identify purchasing behaviour, use and storage of tomatoes, and the level of satisfaction with tomato quality. For this survey, five types of tomatoes found in the market place were defined: standard/gourmet, roma, truss/vine ripened, hydroponic and cherry/grape.

Purchasing behaviour
Fruit and vegetable stores were slightly favoured over supermarkets for tomato purchases. Although 50% were interviewed in a supermarket, only 32% bought tomatoes exclusively from the supermarket. Most of those interviewed in a fruit and vegetable store (46%) exclusively bought tomatoes there. The remaining 16% shopped at both supermarkets and fruit and vegetable stores, and 6% shopped elsewhere such as growers markets or at an organic store. Most people shopped weekly (66%) buying either 3-5 tomatoes (37%) or 1 kg (40%). Over 10% of people bought 1-2 punnets of cherry or grape tomatoes instead of, or in addition to, other tomatoes. Consumers were asked about the two types of tomatoes that they most frequently bought. Standard tomatoes were the most purchased (67%) and hydroponic tomatoes the least purchased (18%) (Figure 1). Over 35% of shoppers bought truss and cherry types, and over 40% bought roma tomatoes.

Figure 1. The proportion of consumers that bought each tomato type. This was based on the two tomato types that consumers usually purchased. First type – light green; second type – dark green.

The importance of flavour and quality in tomatoes
In terms of quality characteristics, flavour is the king tomato quality. Almost 30% of respondents were concerned about flavour, more than any other quality, when they had been disappointed with a tomato purchase (Figure 2). Firmness was the next quality of concern (16%), followed by ripeness (12%). Flavour was a key reason for buying tomatoes but this differed among tomato types. For example, over 80% of those that bought truss tomatoes did so for reasons of flavour, whereas only 20% of those that bought field tomatoes bought them for flavour (Figure 3). When it came to the question of the most flavoursome tomato, the largest group of consumers identified truss as having the most flavour (Figure 4).

Figure 2. Consumer reasons for being dissatisfied with a tomato purchase.

Figure 3. The reasons for buying a particular tomato type.

Figure 4. The tomato type considered as having the most flavour.

A significant proportion of consumers are not very excited about tomato flavour in the market place. When asked to rate tomato flavour, generally, 57% felt that tomato flavour was poor, not as good as it used to be, or average, and 43% felt that tomato flavour was good to very good. Consumers were asked to score the different tomato types for a number of quality characteristics. These included value for money, colour and appearance, firmness, sweetness, flavour, keeping and overall satisfaction. Combining these scores did not reveal significant differences among tomato types. However, generally speaking, cherry/grape tomatoes scored highest followed by truss, roma, hydroponic and lastly field tomatoes with the lowest quality score. Some consumers commented on how they usually pick out the best tomatoes from a poor batch of field tomatoes. This reflects the lower quality score for this tomato type.

The importance of use and versatility
People buy tomatoes for different uses. At the time of the survey (winter) almost 80% of respondents used tomatoes in salads. Over 35% also used tomatoes in sandwiches and for cooking. Versatility emerged as an important factor in buying tomatoes. It was the most important reason for buying cherry/grape tomatoes and the least important reason for buying any other tomato type (Figure 3). Consumers commented that cherry/grape tomatoes are very easy to use. Cherry/grape tomatoes are ideal as a snack, good for lunch boxes, well liked by kids, easy in salads, sandwiches and on crackers. Some mentioned that waste was reduced compared to other tomato types. Evidently, cherry/grape tomatoes have very successfully captured a niche in the tomato market.

The importance of price
Standard tomatoes were not considered the most flavoursome, or of a particularly high quality, but they were the most popular purchase. One would assume from this result that consumers are price sensitive when buying tomatoes. When asked why they bought field tomatoes, people were more likely to state price than flavour as a reason for buying this tomato type (Figure 3). However, price was not the main reason for buying any of the other tomato types. For truss, roma, and hydroponic tomatoes, flavour was the main factor prompting the purchase of these types. Versatility was the main factor prompting cherry/grape tomatoes, as previously mentioned. Also, price was not an important reason for being dissatisfied with a tomato purchase. In this case, only 2.5% of respondents reported price as being the significant issue.

Consumer comments were revealing about tomato price. Some consumers stated that they were not prepared to pay for more expensive types after having been disappointed with several purchases. Others stated that price was not an issue when entertaining, or when fresh tomato flavour was an important part of the meal, but bought cheaper tomatoes at other times.

Is there a problem with the ‘hydroponic’ tomato?
It is of concern that in this survey hydroponic tomatoes were the least purchased tomato type and were only considered the most flavoursome tomato type by 13% of consumers. However, of those that bought hydroponic tomatoes, 65% buy them for their flavour. Additionally, hydroponic tomato consumers are more likely than other consumers to think of tomato flavour in the market place as generally good.

It would appear that quality is not the reason for hydroponic tomatoes being one of the least popular tomato types in this survey. Perhaps the answer lies in marketing of the hydroponic tomato. In any case, this issue provides an opportunity for the hydroponic tomato industry to explore new ways of gaining a larger piece of the tomato market pie.

Storing tomatoes at home
Knowing how consumers store tomatoes at home can indicate whether or not tomatoes are getting the conditions that encourage full ripeness and flavour. From this survey it appears that there is room to educate consumers about how to best store tomatoes at home.

The majority of consumers store tomatoes in the fridge for 4-7 days. Some people were willing to admit that they kept tomatoes for up to 3 weeks! Ideally, tomatoes should be ripened at room temperature to obtain the best flavour. Once fully ripened they can be placed in the fridge if necessary. Only 30% of people in this survey stored tomatoes at room temperature (Figure 5). Given the importance placed by these consumers on flavour, providing information on correct storage conditions may reduce the dissatisfaction many have with tomato purchases.

Figure 5. Storage of tomatoes at home: Fridge – in the fridge; Open – at room temperature; F+O – at room temperature then in the fridge.

About the consumers
In any survey it is important to know a bit about the people participating so that effects, such as gender preferences, can be identified. In this survey all the respondents were interviewed on the North Shore of Sydney. The North Shore was chosen with the assumption that people in this higher socio/economic area would be more prepared to pay for expensive tomato types. This was important as one of the aims of the survey was to obtain information from consumers about a range of tomato types. If the survey Reels rotate once to release short had been carried out in another region, or at Disposable reels with 25metre twine another time of day or year, we may have obtained a different picture of consumer attitudes towards tomatoes.

Nylon hanger for strength and durability obtained a different picture of consumer Long lengths quickly and easily unwound attitudes towards tomatoes. Hangers will not spin off the crop wire Proven over 5 years in NZ and Australia Two hundred consumers were interviewed in total. There were more females (73%) than males (27%). Over a third had children living at home (38%). Just under a third of people were born overseas (30%). Income was approximately evenly split among four income levels: $0-25 000, $25 000-65 000, $65 000-100 000, >$100 000. Almost half of people were over 50 years of age, 35% were 36-50, 16% were 25-35, and 1% of the respondents were under 25 years of age.

With few exceptions, gender, age, income and place of birth did not influence the way consumers answered the questionnaire. The exception was that 25-35-year-olds were less likely to rate tomato flavour as poor and more likely to rate tomato flavour as good compared with other age groups. This could be interpreted in two ways. Younger taste buds are known to function better than older taste buds; hence this age group has not suffered any loss of tasting capability. Alternatively, tomatoes really good as they used to, with this age group being too young to have ever tried a tasty tomato!

There is a lot to be gained by looking at tomatoes from the consumer perspective. Most consumers buy more than one type of tomato and they are passionate about flavour. Flavour is the main impetus for buying tomatoes, and flavour, firmness and ripeness are perceived to be the biggest problems with tomatoes. Given the emphasis placed on these qualities, consumers would probably benefit with more information on appropriate storage and ripening conditions for tomatoes. As for tomatoes sold as are not as popular as other types and are not readily perceived to be flavoursome, except by those that buy them. The industry needs to address these issues.

About the authors
Dr Sophie Parks is a plant physiologist focused on greenhouse and hydroponic production. Dr Suzie Newman is a postharvest physiologist focused on postharvest and market access issues. They are both based at NSW Department of Primary Industries at Gosford, NSW.

For further information contact:
NSW DPI, Locked Bag 26,
Gosford NSW 2250 Ph:
Email: or

What is tomato flavour?
The organoleptic (taste or flavour) properties of tomato fruits are determined largely by the amounts of solids, particularly sugars and organic acids, and the volatile compound composition (Stevens, 1972). Some 95% of a typical ripe tomato fruit is water, so the tomato quality is therefore determined by a very small amount of solid matter. About 8% of this dry matter is minerals, the rest consisting of various carbon compounds, half of which are sugars as glucose and fructose, and an eighth organic acids. These are the factors which contribute to the typical sweet/sour taste of a tomato.

Sugars and acids not only contribute to the sweetness and sourness of tomatoes, but are also major factors influencing flavour intensity (Stevens et al., 1979). Hobson and Bedford (1989) stated that consumers preferred fruit with a balanced high sugar content, the taste is sweet but, to most people, insipid. With high quality acidity and low sugar content, the taste is rather sharp and thin. When both acidity and sugar content are low, the taste is watery and unattractive (Winsor, 1966). Tomato flavour changes dramatically during the process of ripening. The sugar content of both the seed and pulp increases rapidly during the first appearance of yellow and orange colouration, and then to a lesser extent up to the fully ripe condition (Winsor, 1966). The acidity of juices is relatively high at the mature green stage, but decreases markedly throughout the ripening process from the green or green-yellow stages onwards. The flavour of the fruit is thus best at about the orange-red stage, when sugar content is high and before overall acidity becomes too low.

The composition of cherry tomatoes and its relation to consumer acceptability.
J.Hort.Sci., 64(3): 324-329, Hobson, G.E. and Bedford, 1989.

Components contributing to quality variation among tomato lines
J.Amer.Soc.Hort.Sci., 97(1): 70-73.

Potential for increasing tomato flavour via increased sugar and acid content. 1979.
J.Amer.Soc.Hort.Sci., 104(1): 40-42

The composition, flavour and firmness of tomatoes
Scientific Hort., 18: 27-35.

Issue 76: Setting New Benchmarks

May/June – 2004
Author: Steven Carruthers

Flavorite takes another bold step to consolidate its position as the leader in the Australian hydroponic tomato industry.

The Flavorite story really began in 1988 when Mark Millis, an existing tomato grower, teamed up with Warren Nichols, an experienced marketer of fresh fruit and vegetables, to grow hydroponic tomatoes at Warragul, in the heart of Victoria’s Gippsland, about 100 kilometres from Melbourne. At the time, there were only three growers in Victoria producing hydroponic tomatoes.

Mark and Warren realised early on that there was a growing demand for red, flavoursome tomatoes. They felt field-grown tomatoes that were picked green and ripened with CO2 in cool rooms weren’t meeting the demand from customers. Faced with this challenge, they set out with a vision to grow a juicy red tomato with good appearance and flavour that would become the Flavorite hallmark.

In the beginning, there were 3,000 square metres of tomatoes on the farm. In its first year, the farm produced 80 tonnes of tomatoes worth $240,000. Today, the farm has expanded to accommodate more than 60,000 square metres of plants, and in the 2004 season, Flavorite’s turnover is expected to exceed $20 million for the first time. This milestone will be made possible by the commission of a new 2ha cutting edge glasshouse facility at Warragul, the largest of its kind in Australia, and a 2ha polyhouse in Bundaberg with marketing partners HMG (Horticultural Management Group), to expand the southern winter markets and keep tomatoes more affordable during the cooler months.

HMG has invested an initial $5 million into its Bundaberg site, which will see the expansion of the site increase from 13,000sqm to 33,000sqm, with a state-of-the-art packhouse attached. Flavorite will exclusively market the fruit produced from this agreement, as well as provide technical advice in the greenhouse and packing shed. HMG has adopted the high standards of Flavorite to produce both truss and premium single tomatoes to the exacting Flavorite quality specification.

Chris O’Connor of HMG said that the reason HMG were prepared to align themselves exclusively with Flavorite, was due to the commitment that Warren Nichols and Mark Millis had to the industry. The fact that Flavorite has a long-term industry vision, focused on quality, and is a significant grower in their own right, vertically integrated, with direct contact to the supermarkets and wholesale markets, removed many of the business risks for HMG.

The ongoing significance of the partnership lies in the commitment of HMG to invest a further $10 million over the next five years to increase the Bundaberg greenhouse area to around 100,000sqm.

Grower synergies
Flavorite not only grow their own tomatoes, but pack and market single and truss tomatoes for many leading growers located throughout Australia who meet the strict Flavorite quality specifications. “Other growers provide 50% of the product to the famous Flavorite brand,” Mark Millis told his audience of more than 400 growers, industry specialist, community business leaders and Flavorite staff who had gathered for the official glasshouse opening. “They’ve grown with us, and they make a big contribution to the development of our company,” he acknowledged.

These affiliated growers benefit from marketing under the famous Flavorite brand, which has become a quality trademark for premium tomatoes throughout Australia.

The Warragul site includes a newly renovated packing shed, which has increased Flavorite’s packing capacity three-fold. The new grading line incorporates an automatic conveyor belt system with recording facilities for date stamping, grower coding and labelling.

Flavorite also pack trusses or bunches of tomatoes into pre-packs, which the company introduced into the market 18 months ago. “There’s a big swing to them mainly because of the actual way that a truss ripens itself, from the top of the truss down,” said Flavorite Sales Manager, Caleb Rudd.

Pre-packed truss tomatoes also have other benefits. Prior to the advent of tamper resistant pre-packs, consumers would often separate single tomatoes from the stem with only around 40% of truss tomatoes going through the register. “Since the introduction of Flavorite pre-packs, the scan rate is about 98%,” said Caleb.

Pre-packs also eliminate product bruising from excessive handling. Arie Baedle, the principal of Rijk Zwaan Seeds, said that growers need to really take note of what the green stem means. “From research around the world, we know that with every handling, a tomato will immediately lose flavour and shelf-life. Therefore, the green stem is the buyer guarantee that the tomato has been carefully handled, that it has full flavour, and it tells the consumer it is a greenhouse grown hydroponic tomato,” said Arie.

New Glasshouse facility
The new glasshouse is a significant building in many ways, and represents a coming of age for the Australian greenhouse industry.

“It’s a quantum leap forward in tomato production capabilities,” said Mark Millis .

“It shows that we can create buildings that can cost-effectively produce tomatoes to meet the demand that’s growing in the marketplace. He added that the new glasshouse would force Flavorite competitors to make similar investments, and he welcomed the challenge.

“The industry can only benefit from having more quality production,” he said. “This building is going to spawn more buildings like it, and it’s going to happen quickly as other growers and investors understand its capabilities,” he predicted.

The new glasshouse is significant because of the technology that’s involved in it. The glasshouse includes the latest irrigation and fertigation equipment, a cost-effective natural gas heating system that includes CO2 extraction to increase plant yields, and a computer system that automatically opens and closes roof vents, activates internal misting, or covers the crop with thermal/shade covers to maintain optimum growing conditions inside the glasshouse. In extreme heat conditions, the computer will also activate sprinklers on the roof to cool the inside environment.

Designed and installed by Faber Glasshouses Australia, the 2ha (19, 840sqm) building took around eight weeks to complete. Constructed from steel, aluminium and toughened glass, the building has a gutter height from 5 to 5.1 metres, measured from the underside of the gutters, with a typical Venlo-style roof ventilation system of 20%.

“The height of the greenhouse is important to create an even air buffer above the whole crop,” said Faber Glasshouse Australia Managing Director, George Jonker. “The air buffer will ensure that temperature fluctuations are handled in such a way as to prevent the crop from stressing.”

Mr Jonker said that the height of the greenhouse is only one part of a combination of design features and other equipment that are arranged in such a way to benefit plant production and minimise the risk of crop damage from excessive environmental changes. The glasshouse is fitted with the latest environmental control technology, including thermal/shade screens above the plants that automatically cover and uncover the crop (depending on solar radiation) to maintain optimum growing conditions. Automatic misting outlets are located below the thermal/shade screens, should they be called upon to cool the glasshouse down, or increase humidity. Temperature, light and humidity sensors located throughout the glasshouse constantly feed information back to the ‘Integral’ computer system that maintains optimum growing conditions.

Hanging gutter growing system
The hanging gutter hydroponic system is also an integral part of the new Flavorite production system that delivers product 365 days of the year all over Australia. According to Vaughn Pearce, Managing Director of Agrihort Irrigation Systems, the hanging gutters produce a higher crop yield compared to hydroponic growing systems on the ground. Agrihort Irrigation Systems were contracted by Flavorite to design and install the growing system now popularly used in Europe to grow hydroponic tomatoes.

Mr Pearce attributes the increased tomato yield to better air flow around plants, and better light penetration in winter.

“The benefits of the hanging gutter are increased production as a result of disease reduction through better ventilation around the crop, as well as excellent drainage control. When you combine this with production increases from interplanting, the results are undeniable, ” said Mr Pearce.

Another strong benefit of the hanging gutter is the convenient height for workers to manage the crop.

During the colder months, heating pipes on the ground, that double as trolley rails, radiate their warmth upwards through the crop as warm air rises. Barely visible under the hanging gutters are plastic ducts which run horizontally down each row, enriching the environment around the plants with CO2 extracted from the natural gas-fuelled boiler.

Cultural information
With a planting density of three plants per square metre, the new facility houses 50,000 tomato plants. The life of a plant is between nine to 12 months and each plant will produce 20 to 25kg of tomatoes. Over a 12-month period, the new glasshouse is expected to yield an average of 20kg per square metre more of fruit than twin-skin plastic greenhouses.

Predominately, Flavorite grow the ‘Tradiro’ and ‘Conchita’ tomato varieties. Tradiro has been noted for its robustness and good flavour during most seasons. To ensure the best tasting varieties are available, Flavorite is continually trialling new varieties. Current experimental varieties include ‘Clarence’ and ‘Labell’ tomatoes. All these varieties are available from RijkZwaan seeds.

Seeds are started in Grodan rockwool cubes in the on-site propagating hothouse for three days at 29°C at 100% humidity until germination takes place. Once the plant develops its first set of leaves, it is placed in a larger rockwool block and grown to the first flowering stage before planting out into the 2ha glasshouse on rockwool slabs. The plant is then supplied with a dripper, which will provide water and nutrients for the rest of its life.

During their lives, plants grow to 10-12 metres in length and are wound onto string hanging from wire in the roof of the glasshouse. This allows plenty of air and sunshine, which enables Flavorite to nurture and develop premium grade tomatoes. Crop management practices include layering and interplanting techniques, made easier by the hanging gutter system that allows plenty of light and air for young plants to develop. Each plant is closely monitored to ensure its nutrient and environmental requirements are met. Computers control the environment, watering, humidity and heating, but the human ‘green finger’ touch is never far away. Plants are hand-pollinated with vibrators three times weekly (Monday, Wednesday and Friday), and tomatoes are harvested daily.

The IPM program consists of the whitefly parasitoid (Encarsia formosa), and sulphur powder sprinkled on the floor as a disease preventation measure. Reflecting current European practices, after deleafing, debris is left on the floor under the hanging gutters, out of the way, between the heating pipes. Once considered a bad management practice, in some circumstances, plant debris makes an ideal habitat for re-emerging whitefly parasitoid.

According to NSWAgriculture Senior Research Scientist, Dr Stephen Goodwin, the plant debris will dry out from the nearby heating pipes, and does not pose a serious disease risk. However, he doesn’t recommend this practice if the debris is allowed to remain moist.

Future developments
Spearheading Flavorite into the future is Executive Grower Horst Sjostedt, a hydroponic grower with 35 years’ experience. Horst has extensive experience in large operations growing tomatoes in Colorado (USA), Portugal, and his home country of Sweden. As part of Grodan’s top 20 grower list, Horst recently returned from Italy, bringing back the latest information on growing varieties and marketing that will influence Flavorite’s ongoing development.

The Flavorite site at Warragul employs 150 skilled and semi-skilled full-time workers, with another 30-35 sales and marketing staff located at the Melbourne wholesale markets. Mr Millis announced work would begin on a second 2ha glasshouse in early 2005, offering more skilled job opportunities for the Gippsland region. To help meet the future skills base, Flavorite offer training programs in horticulture and packaging for its staff, affiliated growers, and students from nearby McMillan Campus.

“When we came to Warragul, unemployment was just over 20%,” said Mark Millis. “Currently, it’s just under 5% and this year Flavorite will put $4 million in wages into the local community.”

Looking to the future, Mr Millis said there are career paths in management and irrigation, and such careers are available to all Flavorite staff.

In the space of a decade, Flavorite has become Australia’s largest greenhouse tomato production, packaging and marketing business, and a significant employer of skilled and semi-skilled workers, not only in the Gippsland region, but also throughout Australia. From the beginning, the Flavorite brand has built its reputation on a juicy red, flavoursome tomato with a long shelf-life, that hasn’t been picked green and gas-ripened in cool rooms.

While the new state-of-the-art glasshouse is the largest of its kind inAustralia, it’s small by international standards, but it does represent a significant step forward for the Australian hydroponic and greenhouse industry. By comparison, the New Zealand tomato industry made the move to higher technology much earlier than Australia, with Faber Glasshouses the main structures used by large-scale operators. The largest Faber glasshouse facility in New Zealand is about 23ha, and still expanding.

With the construction of Australia’s largest automated glasshouse to grow tomatoes, Mark Millis and Warren Nichols have recognised that Australian growers need to look at tomato growing as a production line with the whole operation streamlined like a factory. This is being driven by the big food chains and other large companies that demand large quantities of high quality fresh fruit, vegetables, flowers and fish. Another important influence driving the change in the way we grow fruits and vegetables is Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S) issues, which are forcing growers to change to higher technology to become more efficient and profitable.

Flavorite is the firstAustralian business in the hydroponic and greenhouse industry to make the inevitable move to higher technology to match world production standards. To achieve its vision, the company has adopted the European way of doing business by working collaboratively with industry experts, from Australia and overseas, and with other growers to produce premium quality product. The geographical spread of Flavorite growers will allow the business to market high quality tomatoes all year round.

By 2020, the Flavorite vision tells us that over half of Australia’s tomatoes will be grown in glasshouses, generating sales of over $200 million and creating many thousands of jobs throughout Australia. Starting with this new glasshouse facility, Flavorite plans to lead the Australian industry forward in the new technological age of growing high quality hydroponic tomatoes for the growing market. The long term Flavorite vision is to build another 20ha of glasshouses next to the existing Warragul site.

As the industry continues to develop, Flavorite should not only be congratulated for creating a vibrant new industry in the Gippsland region, but also for raising the bar and setting new benchmarks for the Australian Hydroponics and Greenhouse industry.

For further information contact:
Flavorite Hydroponic Tomatoes
POBox 739, Warragul, Vic 3820