Nuffield Australia 2014 Scholar
Bountiful berries, under cover
Nuffield Scholar Nicola Mann was running a successful hydroponic rose farm when she decided to investigate the potential to grow berry crops in the family’s existing greenhouses as a way to diversify and offset the pressure of imported roses entering the Australian market.
The opportunity to become a Nuffield Scholar seemed the perfect way to launch a detailed study into intensive berry production using greenhouses, substrates and hydroponics.
Mrs Mann’s 2014 Scholarship, sponsored by Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited, allowed her to travel and study alongside industry colleagues and fellow scholars to countries all over the world, including New Zealand, China, Philippines, USA including California and Maryland, Mexico, Canada, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, United Kingdom, France, Belgium and The Netherlands.
“I began this study with very little experience in growing berries in a hydroponic, greenhouse situation; however, I believe my findings have not only improved our production, but are of value to all berry producers,” Mrs Mann said.
“I have certainly found around the world that producers who are recycling water and nutrients, utilising Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques, and growing berries intensively, hydroponically, under protection and in substrates tend to be maximising land-use, yield, water and nutrients.
“The use of substrates in a hydroponic greenhouse system is particularly exciting, with some research I observed in The Netherlands showing substrate plants giving 5 kg of fruit per plant at year five, compared to 2.5 kg for traditional yield.
“My research also shows this type of production is also generally highly efficient when it comes to labour use and minimises risk and crop losses due to pests, disease and weather events.
“However, growers must first invest in the knowledge and/or consultants with knowledge in this area, and do the necessary calculations, cash flow projections and market research.
“The capital investment and time to recoup the investment must be conservative as future berry prices may not be as good as they were or are right now. When it comes to return on investment, there is never a guarantee.”
Mrs Mann is quite optimistic about the future of this industry. She said the berry saturation point has not yet been reached in the market, nor does it seem to be close.
“This situation can change quickly with market access being gained by exporting nations like Chile and Mexico, and production increasing worldwide,” she said.
“But I think worldwide consumer demand will absorb the production, with the factors such as consumer health trends and convenience most likely to continue to drive growth.
“Above all it is important to learn, share and collaborate as an industry because whilst
Australian growers are competing over the relatively small local market, the international competition is eyeing off excellent opportunities around the world, including us.”
Nicola Mann’s husband Wade is a current 2015 Nuffield Scholar, making them the first Australian husband and wife business partnership to be awarded the scholarship in consecutive years.
Wade Mann is using his scholarship to research global best practice in IPM strategies for the greenhouse hydroponic production of berry crops.