$3 million agricultural technology game-changer
IT'S twice the size of the Melbourne Cricket Ground field, it has its own weather station and its roof retracts in about two-and-a-half minutes.
Welcome to the cutting-edge technology of Young Sang & Co's 4.3ha "Brella Fields" greenhouse, the first of its kind in Australia in terms of its size and capability.
The $3 million polyethylene-roofed structure, in North Gregory, south of Bundaberg, is growing its first crop of predominantly roma tomatoes alongside other specialty tomato varieties and smallcrops such as capsicum, and was officially opened at a special introductory event this week.
Young Sang general manager Daniel Scavo said he believed the technology could be a game-changer for Australian agriculture and food security.
"It's built to sustain major wind and weather events and allows us to protect ourselves from the elements," Mr Scavo said.
"We can use integrated pest management systems and quality control measures that allow us to isolate issues very quickly.
"Queensland weather has been very unforgiving in the past few years and roma tomatoes are a bit more delicate than other crops in terms of being able to withstand that."
Mr Scavo said the company first saw the technology, pioneered by global greenhouse leaders Cravo, in Mexico.
"We fell in love with the structure and thought it could work here," he said.
Young Sang has been growing vegetables in the field in North Gregory and Childers since 1996, but the company has suffered with virus and weather problems in the past few years and was eager to find a solution to those issues.
Once the company saw the Mexico greenhouse in action, it seemed a natural step to build a similar one on the North Gregory property.
This one is the first of four planned stages and, if trial tests from just the first three months are anything to go by, the innovation has a strong future.
"We are miles ahead in terms of growth and quality," Mr Scavo said.
"The plants are healthier than we've ever seen before.
"We'll be able to grow 10 months of the year at a quality comparable to glasshouses, but cheaper."
Young Sang is keen not just to share what it's learning so far with other growers, but also welcomes science and government agencies to investigate the potential of the technology to its fullest.
"We've been approached by people in government, agriculture and research sectors because we're doing something that's never been done before here," he said.
"And if it works, this could change the way vegetables are produced in Bundaberg and the way we supply the eastern seaboard.
"It also has so much potential in terms of food security because you can control so many more factors ... and you just can't do that in the field."