Tasmania has an ideal environment in which to produce greenhouse vegetables.
Its cool summers favour the production of high quality produce.
When Tasmania was granted area freedom from Tobacco Blue Mould (TBM) in November 1996, it presented greenhouse growers with an opportunity to export tomatoes, capsicums and eggplants to Japan.
This three-year project investigated a range of greenhouse tomato, capsicum and eggplant cultivars and their production techniques.
The project also confirmed the New Zealand experience that Botrytis cinerea, which can be a major problem with these crops, can be controlled by managing the environment in greenhouses.
This work has generated knowledge that is a sound basis for decision-making by both existing greenhouse growers who wish to expand production and new entrants to the greenhouse vegetable industry.
Eggplants Although only a preliminary evaluation was undertaken in tomato greenhouses, it was clear that eggplants would need more heat and specific environmental conditions for this crop to reach its potential for yield and quality.
Market enquires found that the likely export returns for this crop would not warrant the high production costs that would be necessary under Tasmanian conditions at this point in time.
Tomatoes A small domestic greenhouse tomato industry has operated in Tasmania for many years.
At present, there is a wide range of grower experience and levels of sophistication of greenhouse infrastructure, environmental control and production methods.
A local grower association and partner in this project, the TGTVGA, facilitates information exchange.
Export market investigations found that market-suitable cultivars would need to be grown by a number of growers to obtain economic volumes of best quality fruit.
In turn, the project partners assessed that more modern or upgraded greenhouses would be required by new or existing growers to produce export volumes.
Enquiries indicated that the likely export returns for this crop might be economic but at some risk because the Japanese market was well supplied and highly competitive.
For these reasons, the project partners considered that further cultivar and market assessment is required before growers make large-scale investments into greenhouse tomatoes for export.
Capsicums Evaluations of capsicums in the first year were limited. However, the export market investigations were significantly favourable for the project partners to direct the main project effort into this crop.
Although starting from a base of little practical experience, leasing a modern greenhouse specifically to grow this crop and contracting a specialist consultant enabled the project to produce a small commercial crop up to world class standard for yield and quality.
The small trial shipment of about 200 kg sent to Japan to coincide with Foodex 1999 confirmed the quality of the product.
Valuable experience was gained in testing the procedures required for packing and exporting capsicums.
Strict attention to all aspects of crop production was shown to be critical and this knowledge is now available to growers in the production guide developed from the project.
Some variations in the production methods in the third season highlighted the sensitivity of capsicums to timely and optimal management methods.
The project showed that, unlike tomatoes, capsicums must be grown with more management and cost inputs and with greater control over temperature and humidity.
This can only be achieved in modern greenhouses that have all the ancillary infrastructure needed to achieve this control.
Initial market intelligence suggested that capsicums were a major market opportunity for export to Japan.
However, an influx of capsicums from Korea in 2000 lowered prices and no fruit was exported in 2000. The Korean imports reduced prices enough to make export to Japan an uneconomic proposition.
However, the potential in the local and interstate markets appears to be promising for Tasmanian greenhouse capsicums.
On the completion of this project, a semi-commercial capsicum trial sponsored by Horticulture Australia and industry partners began to test lessons learned from this initial three-year study.
The opportunity exists to update initial findings as the results from this commercial trial come to hand.
As the main focus of the project shifted to capsicums in the second year, the production of a technical guide for this crop became a priority, especially as there was little local experience or expertise in this crop.
The use of a specialist consultant was considered the most significant factor in gaining the expert knowledge required.
The project partners believe the production guide, “Greenhouse Capsicums: A guide to growing export quality hydroponic greenhouse capsicums in Tasmania”, has captured this knowledge in sufficient detail to allow new growers to confidently, and at minimal risk, grow this crop under Tasmanian conditions.
IPM control of Botrytis cinerea
With the failure of commercial support, a commercial-sized demonstration was considered too expensive.
However, a smaller trial of IPM control of Botrytis cinerea confirmed the NZ experience that controlling the greenhouse environment to avoid high humidity and associated surface wetness will control the disease.
A number of growers who adopted the environmental control measures achieved considerable success in limiting Botrytis cinerea infection in their greenhouses and reduced their use of fungicides.
IPM control measures are keenly sought and taken up by growers as they become more aware and concerned for their own health.
Growers see a distinct market benefit in supplying the growing demand for produce grown with less use of pesticides.
This project has confirmed that a number of cultivars of tomatoes and capsicums can be grown in Tasmanian greenhouses to produce export quality fruit.
However, further evaluation will be needed for eggplants. Capsicums have the potential for the highest returns for high quality fruit.
To achieve this quality and the consequent economic returns, modern, automated and dedicated greenhouses using best practice management are needed.
The production guide developed from the project gives growers most of the knowledge needed to grow hydroponic greenhouse capsicums in Tasmania.
The project partners recommend that growers who are unfamiliar with hydroponic cropping should employ consultant agronomists who have experience with growing greenhouse capsicums.
Market intelligence varied over the course of this project. At the time of writing, the prospects for exporting capsicums to Asian markets were less favourable than they were at the beginning of the project.
However, interstate markets for high quality, well presented fruit has been found to be strong.
The project partners believe that the interstate markets should be evaluated further and that new cultivars should continue to be evaluated.
The demand in the Tasmanian market for high quality greenhouse capsicums also is increasing.
Both these markets could confidently be pursued, with the option to divert some produce into overseas markets when the demand becomes economic again.
J. & A. Brandsema – Seedlings, capsicum greenhouse, maintenance, supply of water, nutrients, management of nutrients and environmental control.
Tasmanian Institute of Agricultural Research (TIAR) – provided “in kind” support to the project principally with plant nutrition advice during the project and collaboration in writing the nutritional topics in the guide.
Aurora Energy – contributed towards the heating bill for the capsicum house and for monitoring the energy input. Heating is one of the main expenses of hot house growing.
Air Liquide – gas and equipment for the capsicum demonstration house.
Amcor Fibre Packaging and Visyboard – packaging for trial marketing. R. and
A. Henderson – ULV Fogger, tomato demonstration site.
Hills Transplants – Seedlings.
C. Vercoe – Art work design for cartons.
Qantas and A.E.I. Pace Express Pty Ltd – Assistance with freight. R. Atkins, E. and A. Dykman, N. Mitsaksis and B. Laffer – Tomato demonstration sites.
Rijk Zwaan, Novartis, Agro-Tip and Hollander Imports – Seeds.
Serve-Ag and South Pacific Seeds – Seeds
R. Buttermore (Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery) – Bumblebee demonstrations.
Department of Primary Industries Water and Environment (DPIWE) provided “in kind” support to the project as project manager and with supply of administration overheads. The project funded one officer for three days a week.
Tasmanian Greenhouse Tomato and Vegetable Growers Association (TGTVGA) representing the interests of greenhouse vegetable growers provided funding and ‘in kind’ support.
Field Fresh Tasmania contributed financially towards the project and by ‘in kind’ support through its excellent marketing skills and contacts in Japan, Interstate and Overseas.
Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL) was the major funding organisation, matching industry contributions dollar for dollar. Horticulture Australia was formerly known as the Horticultural Research and Development Corporation (HRDC).
The Australian Government provides matched funding for all HAL�s R&D activities.