Australia's horticulture sector has taken a huge step forward in innovation with the opening today of the nation's first state-of-the-art vegetable glasshouse-production research centre at the Western Sydney University.
Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Senator Anne Ruston, today officially opened the $7 million facility, which will research tailored solutions to Australia's protected cropping needs and also train the next generation of horticulturists.
"Protected cropping has long been seen as a potential game changer for Australia, through its efficiency and ability to effectively manage risk, including biosecurity risks," Minister Ruston said.
"It offers protection from climate and severe weather, optimal growing conditions, increases in yields and reductions in water, fertiliser, pesticide, fungicide and herbicide use.
"While Australia has made several advancements in protected cropping, other countries have been setting the pace.
"This centre is our chance to make real gains in this area and develop systems tailored to local conditions, stay up-to-date with the latest technology, maximise returns for growers and train the next generation of horticulturists.
"I am excited the Australian Government was able to contribute to the centre through Hort Innovation, which included $1.3 million for its establishment, $3 million for running the centre and for further R&D, and $800,000 to trial the advanced 'smart glass' and renewable energy technologies in the greenhouse.
"Our $9 billion horticulture industry is one of the largest and fastest growing industries within the Australian agriculture sector.
"With increased international demand and better market access, protected cropping has vast potential to play a vital role going forward.
"This centre will be integral to research breakthroughs for Australia, and for sharing and applying this to our vegetable growers.
"I congratulate Western Sydney University and Hort Innovation for their efforts to bring this to fruition."
The Protected Cropping Industry in Australia is valued at around $1.8 billion at the farmgate per year (around 20 per cent of the value of total vegetable and cut flower production in Australia).
It is estimated that more than 10,000 people are directly employed in greenhouse horticulture throughout Australia.
The average return on investment is between 5 per cent and 10 per cent—this can increase to up to 25 per cent for high technology greenhouse vegetable enterprises.
At Costa's 30-hectare glasshouse enterprise in Guyra they are growing 12.5 million kilograms of tomatoes per year and delivering 600 jobs.