New world-class greenhouse to advance Australian horticulture

Greenhouse interior

A new world-class greenhouse facility to be built at the University of Western Sydney's Hawkesbury Campus will equip the Australian horticulture industry with the technology required to meet the increasing constraints in water and energy supplies.

Construction of the greenhouse, which is part of a $3.5 million joint initiative between the University of Western Sydney (UWS) and Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL), will commence in December with the first plantings scheduled for September 2015.

While the initial focus will be on tomatoes, later research will look at other crops based on industry consultation such as capsicum, eggplant, lettuce, strawberry and cut-flowers.

"The greenhouse research facility will enable unprecedented control of temperature, humidity, CO2 and light to deliver higher productivity while lowering energy and water inputs," says David Moore, HAL R&D General Manager.

Given that the nearest known equivalent greenhouse research facility is located in The Netherlands, with the Wageningen University Research Greenhouse Horticulture Research Institute, the new facility fills a significant research and education gap in Australian horticulture.

UWS Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Development) Professor Scott Holmes welcomed the investment and the partnership with a major industry organisation.

"Horticulture is a critical industry for Australia and I am pleased UWS will be working closely with Horticulture Australia Ltd on this exciting new initiative," says Professor Holmes.

Professor Bill Bellotti, the Vincent Fairfax Chair in Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development at UWS says the high-tech greenhouse facility fits perfectly with the University's new focus on peri-urban horticulture.

"Greenhouse crop production is expanding in Australia to meet the increased demand for fresh food that can be delivered quickly to markets. The new facilities at UWS will help growers tap into the latest research and practices to make their operations more efficient," says Professor Bellotti.

"The project will combine the world-class plant science expertise at UWS with cutting-edge greenhouse technology from Wageningen University in The Netherlands."

A special feature of the greenhouse will be the provision for interchangeable greenhouse covering materials, allowing manipulation of plant growth and energy balance. Completely closed greenhouse systems will facilitate research into the effects of high humidity and CO2 on plant growth, water and energy use.

While the research program will generate new management practices and technologies, a training and education centre to be established as part of the project, in conjunction with TAFE WSI, will assist the industry in building a future skilled workforce.

"The lack of human resources is a major issue for the sector as the number of students enrolling in horticulture falls and the number of universities offering programs of study or even individual subjects in horticulture continues to decline," says Mr Moore. "This project will help us to overcome this challenge, building clear synergies between research and education."

"The University of Western Sydney has shown a high level of foresight in investing in this project to bring it to fruition and should be congratulated for this."


10 July 2014

Media contact: Paul Grocott, Senior Media Officer

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