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High-tech horticulture in Australia: What could it look like?

Turning carparks into urban horticulture farms, creating floating glasshouses and building container farms are just some of the opportunities to introduce high-tech horticulture growing solutions to Australia in the face of increasing climate variability.

In 2021, RMCG’s team of horticulture experts and economists worked with the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and global urban agriculture consultancy Agritecture to investigate effective urban farming applications being utilised overseas and how they could apply in the Australian context.

The Opportunities for High-Technology Horticulture in Australia report, commissioned  by Hort Innovation, considers the types of high-technology farming operations that could work in Australia and makes recommendations to improve the feasibility of high-technology urban farming.

Future research to support high-technology urban farming could include developing new plant varieties that have reduced height; faster growth cycles with rapid fruit development; and developing new knowledge to optimise the performance of crops in these new production systems.

Impacts for Australian horticulture

RMCG Associate Dr Kristen Stirling said the report reviewed systems such as rooftop and floating glasshouses, growing approaches using building façades and inside building production – but not all systems were viable in Australia.

“High-technology horticulture has its benefits over field-based production, in that it can be climate controlled, and production is not necessarily based on certain seasons,” she said.

“However, there are factors that increase cost such as high land prices in city areas and the significant expenditure required to establish glasshouses inside or on top of buildings.

“In terms of social, financial and environmental performance, we found the best performing high-technology system for Australian conditions was the building façade, followed by a rooftop glasshouse using a vertical production system.”

Dr Stirling said the success of individual enterprises is also heavily dependent on the product line chosen, the business model used and the skill and aptitude of the farm manager.

“High-technology horticulture, like any other agricultural enterprise, is a business that requires careful planning and good management,” she said.

The study was guided by an industry-led reference group including growers and emerging commercial leaders engaged in urban high-technology horticulture in Brisbane and Sydney, members of local city councils, and subject-matter experts in protected cropping.

You can access a summary of the project or the full report.

Find out more about experience in the horticulture industry and economics.

High-tech horticulture

Team

Dr Kristen Stirling

Dr Kristen Stirling

Associate

PhD., B.Ag.Sci.

Kristen is an experienced researcher and industry development specialist. She successfully combines project management skills and technical expertise to deliver projects in agriculture and water related industries. She enjoys working with landholders and large organizations to inform and clarify decision-making. Areas of expertise include strategic planning, stakeholder consultation and program evaluation.

Tristan Wardley

Tristan Wardley

Consultant

B.Ag.Sci. (Hons)

Tristan is an experienced economics consultant at RMCG. He has worked across the agriculture and horticulture industries and has experience in natural resource management. Tristan is experienced in business and financial planning and decision analysis.

 

He has a thorough understanding of business structural change, specialising in micro-economic investment and production decisions, with a particular interest and skill set in risk analysis. His experience within the agricultural industry through private and public forums has given him the opportunity to contribute to progressive agricultural research.

 

Tristan has a developed commercial, operational and strategic skill set, and a deep understanding of sustainable and profitable business models.  He has extensive experience in stakeholder engagement and understands the range of factors influencing a business owner’s needs, risks and aspirations.

 

CJ Wilkens

CJ Wilkens

Consultant

B.Sci (Biochemistry-Molecular Biology), M.Env.

CJ has a keen interest in the combination of production systems, sustainable land management, urban agriculture in peri-urban landscapes, agroforestry, and the intersection of technological innovation and NRM. He has specific detailed knowledge of soil science and horticulture as well as experience in lab and fieldwork in both disciplines. These skills primarily intersect and apply to sustainable land management, environmental impact assessment, and broader scientific analysis of natural systems.

 

Dr Anne-Maree Boland

Dr Anne-Maree Boland

Principal

PhD., B.Ag.Sci.

Anne-Maree has 25 years’ experience in dealing with natural resource and water management in agricultural industries. This has included research and development and consulting in the areas of sustainable management practices, water use efficiency, recycled water and environmental management systems. Anne-Maree has been a Non-Executive Director for GWRDC and IAL, is a Churchill Fellow and recipient of the University of Melbourne Chancellors Prize. She has extensive experience as a knowledge broker and establishing partnerships with diverse stakeholder groups including government, water and agricultural industries.