Global search for greenhouse nous

Jon SolmundsonMidwest Times

Walkaway farmer Bao Duy Nguyen will spend this year searching the world for the best way to design and use agricultural greenhouses, after winning the prestigious Nuffield scholarship.

Although Mr Nguyen left the family cucumber and tomato farm to become a geotechnical engineer, he and his brother both returned home to help his parents grow their business into Sun City Produce.

But Mr Nguyen noticed that his parents’ farming techniques tended to be more reactive than proactive — waiting for plants to show signs they were struggling before changing anything.

“Unless people are keeping it a secret from me, I find that in the Vietnamese community — perhaps somewhat to do with the language barrier, but also because that’s just the way it has always been done — people very rarely consult agronomists,” he said.

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“I know probably only two that have been used around this area.”

Mr Nguyen began monitoring the conditions in the farm’s greenhouses to ensure they were always growing in the best conditions possible, and it is research into these monitoring techniques that he hopes to further through the Nuffield program.

“I will be going to Holland, which is state-of-the-art as far as greenhouses go, then Israel, then Spain which is where all the low-tech greenhouses are ... maybe the US as well, I’m still in planning phase,” he said.

“In Geraldton and the Mid West region in general, it’s all low-tech greenhouses generally because there’s not really the capital to get those high-tech houses built.

“But there’s also great value in looking at high-tech greenhouses to see what the big difference is, to see whether it’s worth getting the loan out to build them.”

Finding time for the 17-week trip abroad will be another task entirely. Mr Nguyen has spent the past year largely caught up with work on the farm — and it was difficult to get just the three days required to travel to Melbourne for his Nuffield interview.

“One of my big fears is the risk; to go away for that long and not have anything to bring back, but all the guys I’ve talked to have said it has changed their life,” he said.

“I’m keen to come back and show people what I’ve learnt, obviously that will help Sun City Produce, but also to share that knowledge with the wider community.”

The scholarship trip will be Mr Nguyen’s longest time overseas by far, but he said he was still looking to stay local for the foreseeable future.

“I think I would like to learn more about hydroponics and some sort of expert — if it’s all right to say that about yourself? — that would be able to open some other doors, but at the moment I’m hoping to build up the company in Geraldton and Walkaway,” he said.

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