Tomato production at a major Western Australian produce company is set to increase to year round production, with plans to construct new hothouses.
Odeum Farms will build on a 200 acre site in Geraldton with plans to construct 200 hothouses. National Category and Farms Manager Jason Marais says it has been a long time strategy for the company to transition all of its broad acre tomato production into greenhouses.
"Tomatoes are typically in peak season between January to March in Perth and between September to November in Carnarvon," he said. "After commissioning of our new hothouses, I would have to say that every day of the year will be at peak so this will be a real win for WA consumers. It is the third year of commercially grown trials under structures to determine the best way to do it and we are confident of the transition to full-scale farming in greenhouses."
Odeum Farms' current tomato production areas are in Carabooda during the summer months and in Geraldton and Carnarvon in the winter months. While the company is still a newcomer to growing gourmet tomatoes, Mr Marais says it has certainly learnt a lot over the past five years and believes it can become the industry leaders in WA.
"The scale of this (expansion) equates to yields of 1.6 million kilograms of tomatoes in a season," Mr Marais said. “We expect construction to be complete mid-2018. It is important to us to “stay green” so the entire site will be powered by solar and 90 per cent of our water will also be self-sufficient through proven catchment and storage methods. We plan to use the latest Irrigation and fertigation technology to grow our crops as efficiently as we can, minimizing waste in the entire growing process."
Odeum Farms have specialized in growing snacking tomatoes for decades and so it was from performing very well in this category that it was asked by a major Australian retailer if it could grow gourmet tomatoes for them, which is when the journey began. But Mr Marais believes that there are many advantages to growing tomatoes in greenhouses.
"They are far less susceptible to any quality issues caused by adverse weather events which in my experience are happening more frequently than in the past" he said. "Growing indoors eliminates all of this. Growing big scale in a controlled environment will produce consistent quality tomatoes throughout the year and will eventually flat-line the “supply vs demand” volatility for which they have become famous for, which will lead to more consistent prices and quality on the shelves for consumers."
The company supplies tomatoes to all the major chain stores; Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and IGA’s in Western Australia, as well as other interstate markets in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia at certain times of the year. But currently there are no plans for international exports at this stage. Odeum Farms says it will first streamline production processes to make the cost of growing tomatoes indoors the same as outdoors.
"Tomatoes are a price sensitive staple so I wouldn’t say there is currently an overwhelming demand for greenhouse grown as they do cost more to produce for a variety of reasons," Mr Marais said. "Our mission is to challenge the status quo by growing the category through economies of scale and produce a tomato that costs the same as if it were broad acre grown. Where the difference will be is in a far superior quality product. I think consumers will quickly see this and it will resonate with them and we will see organic growth through stronger demand."