ANDREW Potter has spent 16 years as head grower of one of Australia’s largest mini cucumber operations and he recently had a eureka moment that has delivered significant productivity gains and thousands of dollars in savings for the enterprise.
Located in South Australia’s Northern Adelaide Plains region near Virginia, P’Petual Holdings operates an 8 hectare greenhouse production site, including 4ha of mini “snacking’’ cucumbers, 3ha of traditional truss and specialty vine tomatoes, of which 2ha is under glasshouse, and 1ha of eggplants.
The tomatoes also include the kumato black tomatoes.
Produce is sold to major supermarket chains including Woolworths, Coles, Aldi, Costco, Foodland and IGA, as well as through wholesalers.
The cucumbers are grown in bags of coco peat set in channels and the tomatoes in rockwool media imported from Europe.
Most of the production systems are computer controlled, with measurements taken on how much water is emitted from bags and samples analysed in Europe to keep a check on the program.
“Nutritionally we use our own mixes and we have yearly budgets for crops, either in kilograms per square metre or kilograms per crop,’’ Mr Potter said.
P’Petual grows four, 12-week mini cucumber crops annually, however, the bags and growing medium are replaced after three crops due to increased seedling losses.
At least this was before Mr Potter adopted a biological product after talking with his local agronomist Paul Pezzaniti, of Virginia CRT agent, Complete Ag and Seed Supplies.
“Paul mentioned the Serenade® Prime biological product and it turned on a lightbulb in my head because I had read about it online,’’ Mr Potter said.
“Then he mentioned Bacillus and it turned on another lightbulb.
“With the mini ‘cucs’, we can’t spray because we are picking every day – we can’t have withholding periods.’’
Serenade Prime, from Bayer, is a liquid biological solution containing viable spores of the highly active QST 713 strain of beneficial bacteria Bacillus subtilis.
After germination, these beneficial bacteria live on the plant root surfaces and in the soil zone around the root systems, called the rhizosphere, where they ameliorate soil and growth media nutrients for the plants under suitable conditions.
When interactions between the bacteria, plants and soil or growth media are balanced, both the plants and bacterial populations function at a higher level, allowing nutrients and water to become more available.
In short cycle crops, Serenade Prime is designed to be used early as an inoculating agent, while in perennial crops, it is designed to reinvigorate the soil/root/microbe relationship at critical growth times.
“We did a batch with Serenade Prime and we got good results – we didn’t have to replace as many seedlings,’’ Mr Potter said.
“We used to do four crops in a bag, but we went to three due to the seedling loss. If we have a hot summer, we can lose 15-20 per cent after transplant.
“We are now going back to four crops in a bag with Serenade Prime. We used it in a third planting and we only lost 1pc and the fourth planting also looked pretty good, with not a lot of seedling failures.’’
P’Petual use 7000 bags for the mini cucumbers, so it’s a significant saving.
Instead of doing up to 10pc oversow, they may now do 3pc. As a niche product costing 60 cents per seed, this is another good saving. At 30,000 plants/ha, the saving amounts to more than $3000, plus labour savings.
In addition to watering the mini cucumbers in the plug trays with the Serenade Prime before planting the next morning, P’Petual also apply it 21 days later and then a further 28 days after this application.
“The plants definitely appear to be stronger. It’s a healthier nutrition system and there is better nutrient uptake for the life of the crop,’’ Andrew said.
“We have used a number of other similar products, but we haven’t seen as much success.
“We try to do a bit of R&D and we had a bit of a look at the Serenade Prime and the root development was good.
“Serenade Prime as a biological product is working well and its price is good – it’s affordable.
“We will probably introduce it into other crops when we replant.’’
Bayer commercial sales representative, Darren Alexander, has had significant experience with biological products throughout his 17 years of working across the horticulture sector, but he said not with a product that had reached this level of effectiveness.
“The level of improvement that we are seeing with Serenade Prime is giving growers so much confidence in the future of biological products and I expect Serenade Prime will become a leading product across the vegetable and fruit industries,” Mr Alexander said.
Mr Potter said P’Petual would look to use more biological products and beneficial insects in the future.
- Copy supplied by Bayer.