Protected cropping could drought proof agriculture

GFIA In Focus Brisbane focus on sustainable growth


GFIA In Focus Brisbane focus on sustainable growth


The Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture (GFIA) In Focus event will put sustainability front and centre later this month, at its two day event to be held in Brisbane. 

The event includes two world-class showcases, leading-edge technology in precision and smart farming on one side of the Convention Centre’s Grand Hall, and on the other, an exhibition of suppliers in technology for controlled environment and protected cropping.

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The controlled environment and protected cropping section will showcase a range of new innovations, including  indoor and controlled environments, spreed breeding and hydroponic systems.

According to event organisers, the protected cropping industry is the fastest growing food producing sector in Australia, valued at around $1.8 billion a year.

Conference speaker, Vertical Farming Systems, executive director, John Leslie said that figure was no surprise.

“Australian agriculture currently has a return on investment of about three to five per cent, and that’s not sufficient to attract investment into the sector,” he said.

“Vertical farming removes much of the labour cost, which is the most expensive component of farming, so the return on investment can be increased to 20pc and upwards, and then agriculture does become an attractive investment proposition.”

Mr Leslie said vertical farming was the ideal drought solution for some parts of the industry, because the process is impervious to climate, and the de-humidification process generates a massive amount of water.

“We’re actually producing water out of the air, and that makes vertical farming highly viable, even in places as arid as the Sahara desert,” he said.

“While vertical farming isn’t a fix-all for every drought situation, it’s another tool we can use to combat the effects, and it will certainly support some parts of the food supply chain and help address things like drought.”

Mr Leslie said his company is developing systems that will soon be able to produce animal feed and proteins.

“It’s based on the same technology we’re right now using for vegetables, and over time that will begin to address the problem on a wider scale,” he said.

Another conference speaker, Hydroponic grower and consultant, Brian Ellis said the hydroponic sector is also experiencing rapid growth, mainly because of its efficient use of inputs including water, fertilisers, labour, land and energy.

“It’s possible to produce five to ten times as much per hectare using hydroponic systems compared to growing in soil,” he said. 

“There’s no doubt that adverse weather is impacting everyone as the climate continues to change , but with hydroponics you have much more control over your environment.

“Essentially there’s much more predictability, and less effect from extreme weather.”

Mr Ellis said hydroponic systems use only minimal water, which contributes further to their viability.

“We often only use as little as 5pc of the water for re-circulated hydroponic crops, compared to growing the same crop out in the field.

“That gap may have closed a little with the introduction of new technologies, but it’s still nowhere close to that figure.

“As drought continues to affect growers, there’s no doubt that hydroponics will become even more important, and more relevant to the success of the industry.”

GFIA In Focus Australia will be held from the 27th to the 28th of November at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.

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