HYDROPONIC tomatoes and lettuces are everyday items in supermarkets these days, but a growing number of Australian Asian vegetables are also being grown in this way.
A new report published recently by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) reveals that the Australian Asian vegetable industry has shown a strong rate of growth compared to the overall vegetable industry, increasing four times in value from $50 million in 1992 to over $200m in 2007/08.
This growth is due to more of us eating Asian vegetables such as Chinese cabbage, pak choy and choy sum.
The report, Taking Stock of the Australian Asian Vegetables Industry, provides a snapshot of the industry, its sustainability and future priorities, and finds that Asian vegetables are grown by three major groups of producers - market gardeners, large-scale producers and a new group of hydroponic growers.
"The majority of growers are market gardeners and large-scale producers, but the children of migrants and new growers coming into the industry are becoming increasingly attracted to hydroponic technology," report author Barry Lee said.
"Many of them prefer to work in a high-tech environment using computers for hydroponic production, rather than working in the field with a tractor and tools.
"Many growers have made the switch from traditional ways of growing Asian vegetables to the hydroponic system, taking advantage of industry support and research.
"After an initial outlay, the hydroponic system can be cost-effective to operate and is relatively pest and disease free, reducing the use of chemicals and generally requiring less water.
"But the future of the industry depends upon supporting all three groups of growers, and that the sustainable growth of the industry needs to balance the commercial, environmental and social development needs of all parts of the industry."
The report makes a number of recommendations for the industry, including educating consumers on the types of Australian Asian vegetables and their value and benefits, supporting best-practice production including registration and use of chemicals and pest/disease management, to cater for the culturally diverse growers and surveillance of pests and diseases.
The report also outlines a number of challenges facing the industry such as the threat of oversupply, the decline in export markets, and communication and extension for growers.