AU: Tomato Exchange is well on the way

In a vast country, where extreme temperatures are the norm, it should not be possible to grow tomatoes, yet Tomato Exchange is making serious headway. This 20-hectare farm - owned by Costa Exchange - has big plans for the future. The advice, guidance and technical support provided by Priva will be essential in helping Tomato Exchange achieve their goals. There are, of course, various financial hurdles which need to be overcome.

Tomato Exchange is one of the two largest tomato growers in Australia. It operates 20 hectares of state-of-the-art greenhouses near the town of Guyra in New South Wales, some 520km (330 miles) north of Sydney. In the domestic market, the company is primarily known under the brand name Blush Tomatoes. "We grow truss tomatoes, which are packed both loose and in 500 g pre-packs, cocktail tomatoes of the Amoroso variety and snack tomatoes," explains manager Godfrey Dol. Quality tomatoes from other growers, who together account for another 10 hectares, are also packed under the name Blush Tomatoes. This makes Tomato Exchange one of the major players in the Australian tomato market.


Too hot

Over the past decade, the company has undergone a period of tremendous growth. 'Down under', 70 per cent of tomatoes are still grown in the field. Of the 30 per cent of tomatoes grown in greenhouses, half consists of low-grade unheated greenhouses. "But developments are moving fast," says Dol. "Eight years ago we built a five hectare greenhouse. At the time, that was the largest greenhouse in Australia that had been constructed in one go."


Dol is Dutch by birth, but for many years has been employed by horticultural companies on different continents. He worked in the Middle East, and spent six years at Village Farms in the United States. For the past sixteen years he has been living and working in Australia, where he has played a key role in the rise of greenhouse cultivation.

"When I first came here, growing vegetables under glass was still a niche market. Throughout the country, it is too hot for the cultivation of tomatoes in greenhouses. Our farms, however, are at an altitude and are closer to the equator. This makes it possible to produce tomatoes all year round, without the use of cooling."

Transition

Tomato Exchange's 20 hectares have been literally split in two; with the packing shed in the middle. One half is used for the summer crop, the other for production in winter. In total, the farm produces 12 million kilos of tomatoes, with the vast majority being purchased by the retail sector.

"After our success, other companies have made the transition," says Dol, "partly under pressure from the retailers." Supermarkets in Australia are clearly still very price sensitive. It is more the issue of production reliability and quality that is behind the rise of greenhouse tomatoes. "The problem with field tomatoes is that, in terms of volume and quality, you are very dependent on the weather conditions. That even applies to covered crops in tunnels. These fluctuations in quality are no good at all for the image of the tomato. Hence the growing demands for a reliable high level of quality, for example, cultivation under glass."

Support

For Godfrey Dol, it was a foregone conclusion that Priva would have to be
Tomato Exchange's partner for the transition to state-of-the-art tomato growing. "I've always worked in countries where the horticulture industry was still fairly young. In all those countries, Priva was first on the scene and was thus able to build a significant lead over its competitors. That's why for the past thirty years I have only ever worked with Priva."


He mentions local representation as an essential factor. Priva is represented in Australia by Powerplants, based in Melbourne. "That gives us the peace of mind that, in the event of a problem, we will receive expert support within twelve hours." Dol is also particularly happy with the direct support and advice received from the Netherlands. "Peter Mos, Energy Advisor at Priva, has just visited Australia for the second year in a row, and gave us advice in the area of energy. We have to contend with cold winters, during which we use expensive butane for heating. Peter gave us various recommendations for saving energy. That was very valuable."

Future plans

Dol is obviously impressed by the knowledge and experience of the Priva specialists, including when it comes to fine tuning the system, which leads to improved operating performance. "The specialist knowledge makes all the difference for our company," emphasises Dol, who also regularly sends employees to the Netherlands for training at Priva.

In Godfrey Dol's opinion, cooperation with Priva is essential for the achievement of Tomato Exchange's future plans. "There is no doubt that we are going to be building more greenhouses. Field growers are running into financial difficulties, and growing under glass is the future. Our goal is therefore to expand aggressively."

Investments

Tomato Exchange has ambitious goals, which still require some hurdles to be cleared. "Expansion means we need a lot of new people.

We do, however, have to train them from the ground up," acknowledges Dol, who goes on to add that it is also becoming more difficult to put in place effective, skilled management for the company. And, of course, the plans need to be financed. "These are huge investments," emphasises Dol, "but the two largest retailers in Australia will not enter into fixed contracts with their suppliers. That does not make financing easy. Nonetheless, I am convinced that we will succeed and that our Blush Tomatoes are going to reach even more Australians. It is clear to me that, in order to achieve our goals, we will need Priva's knowledge and support."


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