Bao DuyNguyen:Nuffield Scholar and Sun City Produce Managing Director Bao Duy Nguyen has released his report on the findings from his scholarship, which was undertaken in 2017. Vegetables Australia spoke to Bao about his Nuffield experience and the opportunities that it has presented within the industry as well as his own professional development.
A desire to improve his greenhouse growing operation, as well as a search for further mentoring, drove Western Australian greenhouse vegetable growerBao Duy Nguyen to apply for a Nuffield Scholarship in 2017. Bao is Managing Director of Sun City Produce, a family-owned business in Walkaway, which is located about 30 kilometres south of Geraldton. It produces tomatoes, cucumbers and capsicum in a low-tech greenhouse operation.
The vegetable grower was successful in his application, and as a result travelled to Singapore, Indonesia, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States as part of his Global Focus Program. He also travelled specifically to Brazil, Israel, Italy, Canada, Spain and the Netherlands to investigate how low-tech greenhouse operators can become more efficient within their existing systems
Bao released his comprehensive report Efficient Practices in Low Technology Greenhouses: Surviving as a small family farm in July this year.
The Nuffield Scholarship is a strategic levy investment under the Hort Innovation Vegetable Fund.
Seeking knowledge Six years ago, Bao took a break from engineering and returned to the family farm to work alongside his brother Bao La. Upon his return, Bao observed that the operation’s efficiency needed to improve.
While Sun City Produce was able to expand by purchasing additional land, Bao and his family soon realised that the business’ production levels had plateaued. They were working long hours each day and not seeing the return on investment. This prompted Bao to search further afield for ways to improve their growing practices, so they didn’t get left behind.
“I could see in the long run that we could not sustain a living if we were to continue the way we were. I was sure there were people around the world in similar operations who would have been able to increase their efficiency with restricted low-tech greenhouses,” he said.
Global insights The opportunity to travel to several continents strengthened Bao’s professional and personal networks, increased his confidence in introducing new technology into Sun City Produce, as well as enriching his understanding of how greenhouse vegetables are produced and how Australia can improve its protected cropping practices.
“I learnt that applying simple technology will save you time and effort, and inform your decision making. Temperature, humidity and soil moisture sensors can be recorded in real-time on your phone, which really helps in informing you whether to irrigate or open vents,” he says.
“As a result, I have implemented some temperature and humidity sensors that allow me to make observations on what the crop is doing so I can change my fertiliser applications. I have put some fans and vents in that reduce heat and humidity; however, the cost to install them on the rest of the farm is too large.”
Key recommendations Bao’s report also defines factors that affect low technical greenhouse management and provides recommendations to vegetable growers operating in these systems, as well as key decision-makers in Australian horticulture.
BAO visited Roquetas De Mar in Spain.BAO Duy Nguyen visiting a greenhouse tomato growing operation in Israel.“There is production where there are competitive prices for water. Any regional areas that want to continue producing need cheap or competitive price and access to water to sustain their business. In areas of Israel, the Government has helped in accessing bores, recycled wastewater and desalinated water (the overflow from cities using desalinated water),” Bao said.
“In Australia, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources needs to prioritise water allocation for vegetable producers to keep us sustainable.
“There must also be a market for your produce. Europe has a huge market — that’s why their greenhouse industry in Spain’s Almeria region can have 30,000 hectares of greenhouse.
“We need to focus on growing things that have a market access and export can be an option. However, there must be quality and collaboration between growers to get the consistency and supply all year round.”
Bao acknowledged that those recommendations could be out of vegetable growers’ control. Therefore, he has focused on practical steps growers can take on-farm that do not require too much capital. The report also provides advice around where businesses can direct their efforts to make sure they are not losing profit because of mismanagement of their technical growing practices.
Opening doors Bao strongly recommends that other members of the vegetable industry apply for the Nuffield Scholarship, as it opens the communication lines with other growers and provides the opportunity to adopt practices and exchange knowledge with leaders in their own field. Over the past 12 months, Bao has joined vegetablesWA as a committee member and is the Chairman of the newly established Mid-West Horticulture Grower Group Inc. that he helped to establish with other growers in the Geraldton area. Bao is also considering undertaking an entrepreneur course following his Nuffield studies.
“I now realise that farming is a business and we need to add value to what we produce. However, at this stage, I would like to stay on the farm and continue putting what I’ve learnt into practice. I really enjoy growing and it’s great when you are improving each season.”
MORE INFORMATION To read Bao Duy Nguyen’s report Efficient Practices in Low Technology Greenhouses: Surviving as a small family farm, please visit nuffieldinternational.org/live/Report/ AU/2017/bao-duy-nguyen.
For more information, please visit nuffield. com.au.
The Nuffield Scholarship has been funded by Hort Innovation using the vegetable research and development levy and contributions from the Australian Government.
Project Number: VG14065
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT This article was originally published in Vegetables Australian magazine, courtesy of AUSVEG.