Home' Grower : Dec 2011-Jan 2012 Contents The South Australian Grower – December 2011/January 2012
Drawing focus on quality of water
TOMATO growing consultant Keith Webb was
finding it difficult to help client Freshway
Farms produce a good quantity of high-
quality tomatoes because of high sodium and
chloride levels in the soil.
Keith said it was obvious that other
growers in the Virginia area were having
similar issues with yield and to work out a
solution, decided to convert the farm’s
greenhouses into semi-hydroponic systems.
“Virginia is low in bore water, has limited
mains water and is so close to sea level that
the water is salty, so soil can’t be leeched,”
“I was also thinking about ways we can
grow more product in a smaller area instead
of having big-volume land, to be more
sustainable and profitable.”
Freshway Farms levelled the soil in its
existing greenhouses, laid irrigation and
drainage pipes and put in weed mats before
laying coco peat slabs on gutters.
It also bought a fertigation machine for the
farm which enabled the irrigation system to
be fully automated.
Keith said despite having continued root
problems because of bore water quality,
they managed to achieve better results in
the hydroponic houses compared to soil
“When growing tomatoes in the soil we
were struggling to get five kilograms a
square metre and after converting to semi-
hydro, we went up to 12kg/sqm,” he said.
The farm then focused on improving water
quality by increasing its ability to catch and
store rainwater and by inserting a recycling
Keith was then able to ‘shandy’ the bore
water and improve water quality enough to
“I had to think outside the square with the
irrigation system because the water situation
was so bad,” Keith said.
“Hydroponics is still very much reliant on
water and growers need to continue to look
at ways to improve it, and in turn improve
Growing consultant for Freshway Farms Keith Webb checks tomatoes grown using the semi-
hydroponic system at his tomato farm in Murray Bridge, which he runs together with wife
Oriana. The farm specialises in small and niche varieties. The Webbs have also converted
some parts of their home backyard to semi-hydroponics, with positive results.
Mr Webb said growers should do their
homework before converting to semi-
hydroponics, making sure they understand
the technical features and have efficient
He said those using semi-hydroponics
were seeing a big difference in yield and
quality for relatively low investment costs
compared to high-tech conversions.
“Semi hydroponics can be set up for
between $200,000 and $300,000 for a 20
plastic house (3000-square metre) farm,”
Mr Webb said.
“Five years ago there were only four to
five major high-tech growers in Virginia
and one or two semi-hydro growers.
“In the last three years there has been a
jump – now we have about 30 semi-hydro
growers, with about two growers
converting to the system ever y month.”
Semi-hydroponics, also known as low or
medium-technology hydroponics, uses a
non-soil growing medium and a variety of
irrigation and fertigation techniques,
eliminating soil problems and improving
water quality and control.
This differs from high-technology
hydroponics which include measures such
as climate control and fully automated
While there are a small number of large
high-tech hydroponic growers in the
Adelaide Plains area and across the State,
semi-hydroponics is proving to be a more
cost-ef fective option of making
improvements to tomato crops.
The Adelaide Plains – which includes
Virginia, Two Wells, Angle Vale – has
Australia’s largest concentration of
greenhouse vegetable production.
The Mediterranean climate and good
sunlight make the area ideal for growing
greenhouse vegetables. It is close to the
markets and reliable, low-cost transport
add to the convenience factor.
Tomatoes are also produced in the
Adelaide Hills, Riverland, Upper Murray
and the Limestone Coast. Truss tomatoes
is the main type grown in South Australia
which also produces some cherry and
Greenhouse production of tomatoes in
South Australia – most tomatoes in the
State are grown this way – is valued at
more than $2 million.
Supermarket chains within the State and
across the countr y are the main market for
tomatoes, and the export market for both
fresh and chilled produce is on the rise.
extra mile to make it work
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