NZ: Mega-greenhouse arrives for year-round salad growing

Gisborne vegetable grower Leaderbrand is building a giant greenhouse to grow year-round salad leaves in what is thought to be the first greenhouse of its kind in the country.

Leaderbrand chief executive Richard Burke said the huge greenhouses were common in places like Europe and Japan, but there were few in New Zealand and none that were used to grow crops directly in the ground.

Funded in part with a $15 million loan from the Provincial Growth Fund, the project hit some snags last year as the country went into lockdown and the border was closed. But, despite delays, the 11-hectare greenhouse was now sitting at Napier Port after arriving from France. Construction was expected to be completed by June, and Burke hoped for the first harvest ten weeks later.

The idea was that it would allow for year-round salad production and a step towards a more environmentally sustainable operation. It would also be used to trial new crops, Burke said.

Salad growing operations had not been particularly sophisticated in New Zealand, but the Provincial Growth Fund had given Burke the confidence to take the plunge. Winter salad supply would be improved, but the greenhouse would not meet all the demand. "This is a pilot program to find out what the financial implications are and how it's going to operate, so we can see what is the next step," Burke said.

Leaderbrand was the largest broccoli grower in New Zealand and employed about 200 permanent staff, with an additional 300 seasonal workers during the harvest. Most of its crops were sold on the domestic market, exporting only squash and processed sweetcorn.

The greenhouse farming project started after extensive research in 2019 and should have been operational by now. But the lockdown in March last year significantly slowed construction. Subsequent lockdowns and ongoing international shipping delays, and border restrictions had created further delays, he said.

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