LPG’s Lancaster Farms is Australia’s first 5-hectare retractable roof greenhouse growing tomatoes hydroponically.
200 kilometers north of Melbourne in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley region, an unassuming patch of green marks Lancaster on the map. Here you can find LPG’s Lancaster Farms, where the sun is shining and the tomatoes are ripe. From October to June it’s harvesting season, which means all units are gone – picking, sorting, packing, and stacking box upon box onto pallet after pallet to keep the shelves stocked and our tables laden with fresh, ripe, quality tomatoes.
The tomatoes at Lancaster Farms are grown in a five-hectare greenhouse – technically a retractable roof house, though that’s a mouthful (in tomato terms, more Roma than Cherry). What it means is that the 360 rows of tomato plants are housed under enormous clear sheets attached to wires that can be pulled across to protect the plants and better control the temperature, or opened up to allow maximum sunlight exposure. Happy plants produce more fruit, and keeping our plants happy is a fine art. Factors like water and nutrient levels, sunlight and UV exposure, pests from outside, the temperature inside and harvesting rates all have to be assessed and controlled to ensure that our plants are as happy as they can be.
There are two main types of tomatoes grown in the Lancaster Farms greenhouse: on one side we have Gourmet tomatoes, round and flat – just like the tomato emoji, but with the stalk removed; while on the other side we have the more elongated Roma variety, excellent for cooking with. On the first day of August, new seedlings are planted on long bricks of a special material made from spun rock(!) commonly known as rock wool. This material provides a base for the plant’s root system to grow into and also allows excess water to drain through into a gutter below, where it is sent back to the fertigation system to be reused. Any excess water from the tanks goes into the persimmon Orchard growing next door. This minimizes water usage and exemplifies the sustainable approach to farming that lies at the heart of how we do things at Lancaster Farms.
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