Innovative greenhouse boosts quality for strawberry Vic grower

Innovative greenhouse boosts quality for Coldstream strawberry grower

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NEW TECHNOLOGY: Australian Strawberry Distributors general manager Jim Ripepi tastes some of his product under his new Canadian-designed and built Cravo greenhouse.

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Australian Strawberry Distributors general manager Jim Ripepi tastes some of his product under his new Canadian-designed and built Cravo greenhouse.

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Variable climate prompts Victorian strawberry grower to invest in new technology.

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THE Beatles may have sung about "Strawberry fields forever" but one Yarra Valley grower is bringing that concept a step closer.

Australian Strawberry Distributors (ASD), Coldstream, has invested in a Canadian-designed and built Cravo greenhouse.

General manager, Jim Ripepi, said they had significantly improved fruit quality, allowing the company to target the export market of Dubai.

Mr Ripepi said the walls and roof of the Coldstream greenhouse could be opened and closed remotely, ideal for strawberries, which needed warm days and cool nights.

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"We needed something to vent the heat out of the house during our hot summers and the only way we could do it was with a retractable roof," he said.

"It vents the heat out when it's warm, keeps it warm when it's cold, and the diffused white covers shade the strawberries from high UV rays."

The greenhouse covers an area of 4.2 hectares and contains 500,000 plants.

The Canadian-designed and built greenhouse had been used for other crops around Australia.

But Mr Ripepi said he believed it was the first time it had been used for strawberries.

"It's all computer-controlled, from the opening of the greenhouse to the irrigation system," he said.

"It's completely environmentally friendly, all waste irrigation water is captured and reused, all rainwater is captured and used during our cropping season."

We are getting extreme heat, cold, or rains, so we need some form of protection. - Jim Ripepi, Australian Strawberry Distributors

ASD started building the greenhouse in January 2019, and the first strawberry runners were planted in July, for harvest in October.

"Crop protection is a big thing, these days," Mr Ripepi said

"With climate change, things are getting pretty hard on the farm.

"We are getting extreme heat, cold, or rains, so we need some form of protection."

While production was not being boosted in the new greenhouse, Mr Ripepi said ASD's pack out had "gone through the roof".

"We pack out around 90 per cent first grade fruit, compared to 60-70pc outside, depending on the season," he said.

GROWING: The greenhouse covers an area of 4.2 hectares and contains 500,000 plants.

GROWING: The greenhouse covers an area of 4.2 hectares and contains 500,000 plants.

"We are not looking at more fruit per plant, but we are getting an extra 20-30pc in pack out."

He said the better quality the fruit, the better the chances of export, while strawberries would also go to local chain supermarkets and independents.

Mr Ripepi said it was likely the company would build more of the Cravo greenhouses.

The company was still experimenting with the best varieties of strawberries to grow in the greenhouse.

He said the business was growing Cabrillo and Monterey varieties in the new greenhouse.

"But I think we have nailed that one," he said.

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