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Published: 6 Jul 2018

While growing tomatoes and other produce in greenhouses is relatively young in Tasmania, the industry is poised to expand and is hungry for science-based information.

In collaboration with tomato growers, Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) PhD student Dianfan Zhou is investigating the environmental impacts of greenhouse growing, a project as part of the ARC Training Centre for Innovative Horticultural Products.

“I’m researching the resources needed to build, maintain and run a greenhouse growing operation – including the water, nutrition and land usage, and the raw material needed for infrastructure and constructing the greenhouses,” Ms Zhou said.

“Greenhouse growing may help address consumer demand for consistently high quality and readily available produce, and my research will help the fruit and vegetable industry weigh up the pros and cons.”

Ms Zhou’s project is a collaboration with the world’s top university for agricultural studies, Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands, where she completed her Master’s degree in plant science.  

“Because the climates of both Tasmania and the Netherlands are suited to greenhouse growing, Tasmanian greenhouse growers have adopted methods from the Netherlands, for example greenhouse design and structure, irrigation and crop management systems,” Ms Zhou said.

As with the Netherlands, Tasmanian tomato greenhouses use artificial ‘mineral wool’ instead of soil, which enables an efficient nutrition supply, and water to be recycled.

Ms Zhou said that heating and pollination are the main differences between greenhouse operations in Tasmania compared with the Netherlands.

“In Tasmania, although we have bumblebees, the pollination is done manually, so there are labour costs involved. In the Netherlands, pollination is done by the bees, which is really efficient,” she said.

“Another unique factor here is how a greenhouse is heated. Tasmanian greenhouses use biomass – generally woodchips – as a heating fuel because in Tasmania woodchips are affordable and readily available.”

Over the next few months, Ms Zhou will be collecting data from greenhouse growers in Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia. She will then relocate to the Netherlands to use modelling software developed by Wageningen University and Research.

“We will use the simulation program in the Netherlands to model all of the resources required to operate greenhouses, as well as their environmental footprint, including greenhouse gas emissions,” Ms Zhou said.

“It’s fantastic to collaborate with the world’s top university for agriculture, and to have access to their modelling software.

“The findings will be used to increase tomato crop productivity here in Tasmania and in other temperate climates.”

The ARC Training Centre for Innovative Horticultural Products is funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC), Woolworths and the University of Tasmania.

Published in The Advocate and The Examiner on 6 July 2018 and in the Tasmanian Farmer August edition