The winter coats are off inside Tatura’s new multi-million-dollar glasshouse. It’s 28 degrees Celsius and smells of 150,000 truss tomato plants.
- Glasshouse tomato growers are expanding operations in Tatura
- A 6-hectare glasshouse will create 60 new jobs
- The company has been supported financially by the Victorian government
The new six-hectare glasshouse will produce 4,000 tonnes of tomatoes a year and create 60 new jobs for the site.
Chief executive of Flavorite Mike Nichol says, due to high demand for produce, the company will expand across its four Victorian sites.
“We’ve got one here in Tatura, one in Katunga, Mansfield and our home base in Warragul,” he said.
“Warragul is the largest at this point at time, but at Katunga we’ve got room for another 30ha.
The company grows tomatoes, cucumbers and capsicums year-round.
Mr Nichols said recent flooding in northern Australia highlighted the advantages of growing indoors.
“All of those crops are at risk of deterioration during those sorts of events,” he said.
“This infrastructure allows us to make sure that won’t happen to us. We can guarantee that the product on the vine can be delivered.”
Backed by state government
The company has received investment from the Victorian government’s Business Growth Fund and Regional Jobs Fund.
The $250-million fund is managed by investment management firm ROC Partners and has been established by superannuation funds Spirit Super and Aware Super.
“We’re effectively converting cash to an asset for the state whether it’s a loan or an equity share,” Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas said.
“It shows that we’re the food bowl of the nation, and the only way we can keep that reputation is through increasing ways of efficient delivery of agriculture.”
Protected cropping vs field production
In Australia, protected cropping is a growing industry as more farmers find it hard to grow outside with floods and bushfires.
Operations officer for Flavorite Chris Millis says although glasshouses are expensive to build they have many advantages.
“We don’t have to move around, it’s good for year-round labour, the product uses less water, less chemical [and] fewer inputs.
“I think it is absolutely the way of the future.
“Our main competitor is field production, but when you think about bushfires and floods, it’s not as easy to be a farmer outside.”
The Tatura glasshouse is heated by burning natural gas with a hydronic heating system.
“Heating is our biggest cost,” Mr Millis said.
“Everything we do is about minimizing the amount of heat we need.
“In the roof, we have two lots of thermal screens that come across at night and trap heat in and we try and do as much as we can with the sun.
“When we have runoff we capture it and reuse it.”
Glasshouse produce has been led by countries such as the Netherlands, which has invested heavily in the technology in order to grow year-round.
Mr Millis says the technology has been adapted to suit Victoria’s climate, however, it’s a growing industry around the world.
“The Dutch are innovative, their glasshouses are designed for cold weather,” she said.
“We’ve adapted the technology to suit a cold winter and a warm summer and they are doing the same thing in Canada, France, USA, Mexico [and] Russia. They are building glasshouses everywhere.”