National Vegetable Protected Cropping Centre (VG17003)
What was it all about?
From 2017 to 2022, this investment supported the running of the National Vegetable Protected Cropping Centre to deliver vegetable-focused protected cropping research and development for the sector. Launched in 2017, the facility is the nation’s first state-of-the-art vegetable glasshouse production research centre.
Blending research and training excellence, the Centre provided access to a high-tech production system that delivered opportunities for learning, training and education that sought to increase industry collaboration and engagement.
Research activities in the Centre have utilised facility capabilities to test the impact of Smart Glass (SG) films on improving energy-, water- and nutrient-use efficiency and potentially improving crop production. Several experimental crops, including climbing vines (eggplant, capsicum and cucumber) and leafy greens (different varieties of lettuce), were chosen to broadly test the performance of the SG films. In addition, cucumber and lettuce were grown using a new light-shifting Luminescent Light Emitting Agricultural Film (LLEAF) for comparison with SG. Pollination trials with Australian native stingless bee species (Tetragonula carbonaria and T. hockingsi) were conducted on strawberry and capsicum crops to investigate pollination efficiency and impact on crop yield, fruit size and quality. Initial pollination trials were also conducted using flies as managed pollinators of strawberry crops.
Research and visitor activities in the Centre were negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic during the periods of April 2020 to September 2020 and June 2021 to October 2021. During these periods, Western Sydney University restricted access to all campuses resulting in cessation of research activities. The Centre facility was classified as essential Western Sydney University infrastructure requiring continued operational support. Hence, the Facility Coordinator and Crop Manager maintained existing crop trials, but data collection was reduced. During these lock-down periods, the Centre continued to donate marketable quality vegetable crops to the Food Bank, which were harvested and packed for delivery by the technical staff.
Education and training activities in the Centre have been substantially supported by the Hort Frontiers Leadership Fund project Emerging Leaders in Protected Cropping (LP18000) with courses developed in 2020 and delivered in Summer 2020, Autumn 2021, Spring 2021, and Autumn 2022. A total of 55 students were enrolled in the LP18000 subjects and eight industry scholarships were awarded. Face-to-face workshops were conducted, when possible, but on-line workshops were provided during the periods affected by COVID-19.
The Centre hosted a significant number of school and industry engagement activities over the five-year period from 2017 to 2022, including visits and tours from industry stakeholders, research collaborators, government delegations, community groups, and school groups through the Centre’s training program. These engagement activities have highlighted the Centre’s capabilities and capacity to investigate crop production under highly controlled environmental conditions, and to convey these ideas to a wide audience.
For more details on the National Vegetable Protected Cropping Centre, including contact details for more information, go to the Western Sydney University website here.
This project was a strategic levy investment in the Hort Innovation Vegetable Fund