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Queensland farmers go high-tech

DES and Paula Chapman share a farm in Australia. Their 750ha Rocky Ponds Produce farm property at northern Queensland’s Gumlu — producing a million cartons a year in capsicum, melon and pumpkin varieties — is in a region that boasts the longest growing season in Australia for horticulture.

“Because we’re in the dry tropics, we harvest 32 weeks a year, starting about April 20 and finishing in the first week of December,” Des said.

“Other areas make the same claim, such as Bundaberg, but they’re more susceptible to frost, whereas our temperatures range from 12-28C in winter and 24-33C in summer, with an average annual rainfall of 660mm.”

Better still, after 38 years farming in Gumlu, the Chapmans have modernised their farm to the point it can be run largely remotely.

“I can be fishing in the Gulf of Carpentaria and monitoring the farm,” the 61-year-old said.

“I was in China watching the water pressure and from Europe monitoring the soil.

“It’s totally computerised, from working the land to packing the fruit.”

Going high-tech
A new state-of-the-art nursery, complete with computerised irrigation and fertigation system, is being built thanks in part to a $400,000 Coles Nurture Fund grant — who they have been supplying for 25 years.

The Canadian Cravo design will have automated shade for hot days, insulation against cold, solar-powered retractable roof, and lighting to help seedlings grow faster.

Once operational, the nursery will boost production by at least 20 per cent, producing up to 16 million plants annually to be grown out in the fields.

Des said while the nursery was mainly for seedlings he hoped also to develop an area entirely to grow crops, similar to hydroponics.

“That element will involve more trials. This is an expensive industry to be in so you want to make sure you’ve got it all right before committing,” he said.

“One capsicum seed costs 20 cents to buy and another 10 cents to grow it, with 15,000 plants per acre; whereas melons grow 5200 plants per acre, so investigating trials prior to planting is important.

“We don’t need a glasshouse because our field-grown crops are very, very good, but like in any area you get extremes, so this will provide another avenue.”

Publication date: 9/27/2017


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