In protected cropping, the crops are grown in a greenhouse or inside a plastic covering, often called polytunnels. The temperature inside these structures can be more controlled and the growing environment is protected from adverse weather conditions.
Although there’s been a rise in its popularity in agriculture over the last 20 years, people have been growing plants in greenhouses for thousands of years. The ancient Chinese and Egyptians used them to keep warm and extend their growing seasons, respectively. Today, however, greenhouses are not only a place where people grow food and flowers; they’re also used to create a sustainable and nurturing environment for crops and even animals such as chickens.
Growing plants in a greenhouse, polytunnel or protected cropping environment such as our GROWTunnels has several advantages over conventional field cultivation. Plants will often grow faster, crops may be more productive and their produce can be harvested earlier, at an age when they are not fully mature but keep their flavour, by controlling the environment inside the tunnel. In addition, crops can be better protected from pests and wind borne diseases, due to the physical barrier of the solarweave fabric.
Protected cropping is ideal for crops that do not like frost, such as tomatoes, capsicums, cucumbers and eggplants (aubergines). It also works well for extending the growing season of your crop, allowing you to grow basil almost all year round.
In recent years, the effects of climate change on the agricultural industry have not gone unnoticed. In conventional agricultural practices, crops grown outside are susceptible to being completely wiped out from unexpected weather conditions such as hail, heavy rain, strong winds, plagues of pests and extreme heat or frosts. Growing in a GROWTunnel gives farmers peace of mind that their crops are protected from such events, and their hard work is not lost in one quick, but catastrophic, weather event, potentially wiping out an entire season's crop.
Inside a polytunnel, the impact of pests and insects are reduced, due to the physical barrier of the tunnel. Therefore, a GROWTunnel can help reduce the spread of pests such as caterpillars, grasshoppers and even mice from demolishing your crops' growing prospects.
There are a number of benefits associated with polytunnels, especially when compared to other structures or greenhouses. Our GROWtunnels are simple to assemble and require little maintenance. In addition, they are aesthetically pleasing and come in a range of predetermined or custom-sizes to suit the needs of hobbyists, market gardeners and larger commercial operations.
Covered polyethelene structures, like our GROWtunnels, are a great way to grow your produce, particularly if you are a beginner wanting to maximise your space and grow crops year round, live in a climate that experiences harsh frost or heat, or are looking to get started with organic food production.
In addition to providing the much-needed protection from harsh weather and pests mentioned above, GROWTunnels use high-quality materials, constructed from galvanised steel and a durable Solarweave shade cover, to help control the atmosphere inside and maintain a certain temperature, humidity level, water, light and carbon dioxide levels.
Using effective climate control techniques, growers are able to extend the life of their crop, potentially growing all year round, without sacrificing quality. The in-built temperature controlling functions, such as wind-up sides with insect mesh, roof vents, industrial fans and retractable shade cloth, coupled with our SmartFarm Sensors allow growers to monitor and control the internal environment, optimising it specifically to your crop.
With the development of modern farming technology the use of insecticides or herbicides, which are sprayed over crops to kill all competing vegetation has risen. However, with growing consumer demand for organic fruit and vegetables, farmers have had to look to other ways of protecting their crops. The bonus for growers is that a move to protected cropping reduces reliance on expensive pesticides, putting more money in the pockets of farmers.
Whilst we’ve mentioned that GROWTunnels can protect from major weather events wreaking havoc on your crops, it’s important to note that protected cropping can also extend your growing season and the quality of your crop. This provides farmers with a more reliable output projection and income stability, by producing a premium quality product for a longer period of time than with conventional field growing methods.
When growing at a commercial scale, it is hard to put a figure on the peace-of-mind that knowing your crop is safely protected from unexpected weather events brings. If you’re growing on a smaller scale, such as with our Rural GROWTunnel, you can get growing for as little as $9995 AUD +GST. Depending on the crop you’re growing, you can begin seeing a return on this investment in as little as 6-12 months.
Water on any farm is a precious commodity. That’s why we’ve ensured that each of our GROWTunnels are equipped with rainwater harvesting features, including a dual-side rain gutter system, which can be connected to a water storage tank. This creates a completely closed-loop system, allowing growers to harvest the water required for irrigating their crops.
When growing inside a covered structure, the growing options are endless. Many of our growers choose to grow in raised garden beds, as it allows for the input of organic growing matter in order to obtain organic certification for their crops. Alternatively, you can choose to grow in pots, or directly into the soil. With a few additional materials, you can use the height within the tunnel to grow vertically, making it a perfect solution for cucumbers, tomatoes and the like. Or some growers choose to install a hydroponic system for crops such as strawberries.
The first question to ask yourself is how much land do you have available. The great news is, we have a range of GROWTunnel sizes and are able to provide custom tunnel sizes to meet your requirements.
It’s also important to determine how a GROWTunnel will fit into your lifestyle. For example, are you looking to diversify your existing farming income, looking to grow food for your family, cafe, restaurant or AirBNB, are you wanting to start a new hobby, or are you looking to earn an income off your land. The answer to these questions will help you determine the right GROWTunnel for you.
Finally, we suggest that you consider what you wish to grow and the market for it around you if you plan on selling your produce. Understanding your climate and what grows well in it, is crucial to a productive crop. It’s also important to consider what other local growers are in the area and what your local market needs, before planting your desired crops, to ensure that you will be able to sell your produce effectively. Ideally you want to pre-sell your crop at an agreed price before you’ve even planted it. This gives you much more certainty over your income potential. A key component to the GROW Marketplace is our Food Futures option, whereby you can connect to local retailers in your area and/or wholesalers to GROW on contract for them at a pre-agreed price and quantity.