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Ongoing project

National Vegetable Protected Cropping Centre (VG17003)

Key research provider: Western Sydney University

What’s it all about?

Hort Innovation and Western Sydney University combined forces to launch the nation’s first state-of-the-art vegetable glasshouse-production research centre in November 2017. This project supports the running of the facility, with a range of avenues of research.

Researchers are currently manipulating inputs to understand the optimum environment to drive maximum harvest windows and overall yield for a variety of vegetables, and will share this information with Australia’s growers. They are also investigating contrasting greenhouse cladding materials relating to light, crop growth and energy balance. Smart glass technologies are being employed to test effects on productivity, and a stingless bee pollination project is also underway within the glasshouse to measure how the insects perform in protected cropping conditions.

Through the facility, industry also aims to attract new entrants to horticulture careers by offering students access to some of the most advanced technology currently available.

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For more details on the National Vegetable Protected Cropping Centre, including contact details for more information, go to the Western Sydney University website here.

Several experimental capsicum and lettuce crops were grown to investigate plant response to Smart Glass. Pollination trials with the Australian native stingless bee species Tetragonula carbonaria and T. hockingsi were undertaken using strawberry crops to investigate fruit quality.

Teaching activities continued, with three Tertiary Pathway for Protected Cropping units offered to both domestic and international students. Six new units in Hort Innovation project Emerging Leaders in Protected Cropping (LP18000) were developed, with three delivered during the Summer 2020-21 semester and four face-to-face workshops in the Summer and Autumn semesters.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the number of Centre visits and tours from industry stakeholders, research collaborators, government delegations and community groups was reduced. It is anticipated that the University’s school engagement program, which has been on hold since March 2020, will start again soon.

Technical support for facility operations and crop management and data collection returned to pre-COVID-19 levels.

The Centre has also continued to donate significantly to FoodBank with marketable quality capsicum, eggplant and lettuce harvested and packed for delivery by the technical team.

The National Vegetable Protected Cropping Centre continues to be utilised for valuable research, for example several experimental capsicum crops have been grown to investigate the response of fruit crops to Smart Glass, and pollination trials with Australian native stingless bees have been conducted using strawberry crops to investigate fruit quality.

Teaching activities continued with the first-round delivery of the three Western Sydney University developed Tertiary Pathway for Protected Cropping units completed in March 2020. The Hort Innovation Emerging Leaders in Protected Cropping (LP18000) project has also progressed.

The Centre has hosted a significant number of visits and tours from industry stakeholders, research collaborators, government delegations, community groups and school groups through the Centre’s training program up to March 2020. These engagement activities have highlighted the Centre’s capabilities and capacity to investigate crop production under highly controlled environmental conditions.

Research activities into the response of fruit crops to Smart Glass and trials with Australian native stingless bees continue.

The technical staff have continued to play a pivotal role, not only in best-practice facility operations and crop management, but also in data collection for research activities, engagement activities through hosting tours and teaching activities involving crop production in the Centre’s education bay. The Centre has also continued to donate significantly to FoodBank with marketable quality crops of capsicum and eggplant harvested and packed for delivery by the technical staff.

Several experimental eggplant and capsicum crops have been grown to investigate the response of fruit crops to Smart Glass. Trials with the Australian native stingless bee Tetragonula carbonaria have been conducted to investigate foraging behavior of bees and colony health of hives kept under normal glass or Smart Glass as well as pollination studies using strawberry crops.

Teaching activities have continued with first delivery in 2019 of the Tertiary Pathway for Protected Cropping which was developed to include three new protected cropping specific, industry initiated, units and the utilisation of a fourth existing unit to facilitate work-integrated learning. WSU’s development of a Masterclass in Protected Cropping (AQF8) specifically tailored to the protected cropping sector has also continued in collaboration with Hort Innovation.

As interest in the National Vegetable Protected Cropping Centre grows, the project team has secured more research partnerships that will extend benefits from the new facility. 

Work on developing academic qualifications for students has continued, with four core units in the  Tertiary Pathway for Protected Cropping underway. The units can provide a pathway from TAFE courses to a Bachelor of Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security at Western Sydney University, boosting future capacity in the sector. Protected Cropping Australia and the Hydroponic Farmers Federation will provide industry accreditation to the units.

The first unit, Protected cropping biosecurity and pollination is currently being delivered in the autumn semester to a pilot group of students.

A new Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), the Future Food Systems CRC plans to work in conjunction with the Cropping Centre, with new opportunities arising from the partnership. The CRC has been funded for 10 years which will enable expansion of the protected cropping research program. Projects will be developed in collaboration with Hort Innovation and other funding partners like the University of New South Wales, Queensland University of Technology, University of New England and NSW Department of Primary Industries.

Related levy funds
Details

This project is a strategic levy investment in the Hort Innovation Vegetable Fund