Australian hi-tech hydroponics set to become a $40bn export industry

Australian hi-tech hydroponics set to become a $40bn export industry article image

Australia is fast becoming the leading player within the agribusiness hydroponics sector across the Asia-Pacific region.

And when it comes to global greenhouse hydroponics technology Victoria based Powerplants is one company that is leading the way.

Powerplants, which employs more than 30 people at its Melbourne headquarters, manufacturers agricultural actuator and instrumentation equipment and supplies fertigation and climate control systems to Australian growers.

Today, the critical technological factors to do with optimising fresh food crop productivity are converging.

Computer controlled fertiliser delivery systems (fertigation), climate temperature control, water quality control, pH acidity control, extreme weather protection systems are all combining to form a ground-breaking integrated agribusiness super system. 

Results recently recorded are staggering. Powerplants’ productivity harvest rates have increased as much as tenfold for tomato growing and other vegetables. Remarkably, even a doubling of crop output is now seen as ordinary, such are the advances being made in this new techno-agricultural frontier.

Yet crop productivity is also about protecting and mitigating against the potential vulnerabilities of extreme weather events such as unusual cold snaps, heat waves and storms. In this all important area Powerplants is at the technological leading edge of proven and practical systems.

Productivity revolution

Greenhouse hydroponic technology has now reached a stage of evolution where more than ever before many fruits vegetables and plants can be commercially grown in controlled and protected conditions cost effectively and on a mass scale.

The risk planning benefits, organisational development, reliability of harvest outcomes and supply chain possibilities for growers, investors and consumers alike may very well bring about a productivity revolution in many sectors of the fresh food industry.

Vegetable orchards once exposed to extreme weather events can now be grown in specialised controlled conditions.

Hybrid farms of open air acreage which can also include retractable roof covering thus facilitating optimal natural sunlight while providing protected (roof covered) conditions when required within two and a half minutes of receiving an imminent weather alert.

The future of hydroponic agriculture is happening today and Australian industry leader Powerplants is at the forefront.

Focus and vision

Such success requires unswerving focus and vision along with a strong commitment to R&D.

Powerplants has invested more than $2million dollars overall in R&D, expenditures helpfully supported by federal Government research tax concessions. An additional $300,000 will be spent this year further developing agribusiness super systems from both local and imported components.

To place agribusiness in a trade and economic perspective, the most recent trade data for export of Australian fruit, vegetables and flowers comes to $4billion.

Revisiting these figures within the context of agribusiness super system productivity increases it is entirely feasible to envision exports of $30-40billion within the next 25 years.

Some challenges remain

For Australian consumers the benefits may very well be the availability of freshly picked produce on supermarket shelves all year round and without the price spikes often associated with extreme weather events.

Yet some challenges, none of them insurmountable, remain. As the technology is relatively new and only recently has entered the agribusinesses sweet spot of productivity/availability/affordability and much of this due to the many achievements of Powerplants.

These achievements need to be further underwritten with Government commitment.  Australia needs to train and educate the skills needed to optimise the very real and very large potential this technology has and the massive commercial advantages it can deliver.

It is now up to government to work toward crafting the necessary policies and concessions to support and promote Australia’s lucrative agribusiness sector.

David Gray is lead consultant at Digital Information Partners providing media and public relations and business documentation services in Australia and internationally.


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