New model for urban farming

New model for urban farming

A new horticulture model on the outskirts of Melbourne – which uses cloud technology to tell employees when and what herbs to pack – will increase yields by around 75 per cent.

A new state-of-the-art greenhouse, funded by the Coles Nurture Fund, was launched by Clyde small business Australian Fresh Leaf Herbs as part of its new model for urban farming.

The new model means locally-grown herbs will be available all year round at affordable prices for Coles customers.

Sophisticated cloud technology, designed by Australian Fresh Leaf Herbs, has been installed in the greenhouse, with large screens mounted to tell employees exactly when and what herbs to plant, pick and pack.

Herbs will be grown on Dutch-designed rolling benches which can be pushed together to increase planting space, and also rolled into an adjoining shed so employees can harvest the herbs at the one location.

And a climate-controlled growing environment for plants means herbs can be grown locally all year round.

Australian Fresh Leaf Herbs co-founder Jan Vydra – who was awarded Australian Young Farmer of the Year in 2011 – said it was the first time in Australia’s horticulture industry that a small business had introduced new cloud technology and rolling benches into a climate controlled greenhouse to grow herbs.

“Two years ago, I saw the rolling benches in action in Holland and decided the benefits for yields and productivity were so impressive, we should introduce them to our business in Clyde,” he said.

“The combination of the rolling benches, cloud technology and climate controlled greenhouse will increase our yields by 75 per cent by allowing us to increase annual yield from 350 bunches per square metre to more than 600 bunches.”

“By producing more herbs per square metre and bringing harvesting to one location, our overall cost of production will fall and our growing will become more streamlined.”

Mr Vydra said the investment would not have been possible without a $430,000 interest-free loan from the Coles Nurture Fund.

“The Coles Nurture Fund provided us with the financial support and confidence to go ahead with the construction of the new greenhouse with rolling benches,” he said.

Coles Managing Director John Durkan congratulated Australian Fresh Leaf Herbs on its initiative.

“When we established the Coles Nurture Fund, this is exactly the sort of innovation we had hoped to support. We are delighted to see this landmark project come to life,” he said.

“Australian Fresh Leaf Herbs are great innovators in the industry. This new horticulture model using the latest technology will mean our customers can buy great quality, locally-grown herbs all year round at affordable prices.”

Australian Fresh Leaf Herbs was founded by business partners Jan Vydra and William Pham in 2008 and began supplying Coles indirectly around seven years ago.

The company began supplying herbs directly to Coles in October 2014 and received the Rising Star Award at the 2015 Coles Supplier of the Year Awards last September.

Mr Vydra was also announced as a recipient of the Nuffield Australian Farming Scholarship for 2016, which will give him the opportunity to travel to 20 countries and see how vertical cropping can urbanise agriculture.

By choosing to grow herbs hydroponically rather than in the field, the company estimates it has used ten times less water, equating to nearly half a billion litres of water since 2008.

Featured Image: Australian Fresh Leaf Herbs co-founders Jan-Vydra and William Pham with Coles Managing Director John Durkan

This story was first published in Leading Agriculture magazine.