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Matthew Jones

BY MATTHEW JONES

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Q&A: Bede Miller, Cravo

Demand for retractable roof systems on the rise in Australia and New Zealand

Q&A: Bede Miller, Cravo

Image credit: Cravo 

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Utilising its innovative retractable roofing system, Cravo is working with growers across Australia and New Zealand to create more profitable production systems. The company’s director of business development and customer success for Asia-Pacific, Bede Miller, outlines the benefits of tailoring the technology to the market.

It seems demand across Australia and New Zealand for Cravo’s technology has increased considerably over the past 18 months. What’s driving this demand?

Bede Miller: That is correct. There have been several contributing factors that have aided in our technology being introduced across Australia and New Zealand.

Firstly, Cravo’s Retractable Roof Production System (RRPS) is now an established and proven solution for high value crops across Australia, where cooling is a major requirement. Traditionally, growers have automatically turned to traditional greenhouse technology, such as glasshouses and tunnels, which have been designed for cooler climates in the Northern Hemisphere. The question I always ask potential clients is ‘do you require a heating system (traditional greenhouse) or a cooling system (such as Cravo retractable)?’ Cravo technology has been specifically designed for mild to hot climates, where there is a greater need for cooling.

Secondly, producers are developing a better economic understanding of the return on investment (ROI) that our solutions offer. This ROI is delivered in a number of ways, including higher crop yields, higher first grade packouts, the utilisation of the technology to target a higher priced market window and the ability to extend current production windows or create completely new ones. Our technology also allows clients to produce crops and genetics that would not typically grow in certain regions due to excessive heat, cold, wind, rain or frost.

Cravo house - credit Cravo

Image credit: Cravo

Which fresh produce categories are showing the highest level of interest in your technology? Is there any particular reason these categories are leading the charge?

BM: We have seen expansion from the traditional vine crop markets – such as tomatoes, cucumbers and capsicums – towards crops such as lettuce, herbs, berries, cherries and cannabis.

With the rapid expansion in markets such as berries and cherries, clients will initially look at quantity as a key metric, which means open field plantings or simple protective cropping solutions such as hail nets or plastic tunnels. These are typically the most appropriate solutions for growers who want to limit capital expenditure while quickly gaining production volumes.

However, there are two negatives that come with this strategy. Firstly, it can create oversupply during the traditional season, meaning a lower price per kilogram. Secondly, the quality and yield are determined by the local climate and weather.

We typically see a shift of priorities and therefore interest when a client wants to think differently, such as targeting an earlier or later market window where prices (per kilogram) may be higher, or the average price needs to be increased through a higher first grade packout. The ability to optimise or manipulate the climate through Cravo’s retractable field and orchard covers can make these wants a reality, as long as the ROI is sound.

Producing cherries and berries in open fields is an easy argument to understand until conditions are unfavourable. This is where the ability to protect and optimise the growing conditions of a crop in two-and-a-half minutes can play a huge role in the profitability and success of a business.

An Australian cherry producer this year witnessed the benefits of climate optimisation under a Cravo retractable orchard cover, where their yields increased by over 140 per cent, with a premium grade packout of 99 per cent, while fruit size on average was 30mm. These results have shown that an ROI under the five-year target is realistic. The retractable orchard cover also enables the producer to extend their production window.

Export opportunities and growing demand for high quality within the domestic cherry and berry markets are also driving interest in Cravo retractable roof technology.

Presumably you don’t take a one-size fits all approach to installations. How do you work with producers to ensure their greenhouses meet their specific requirements, both at the time of installation and into the future?

BM: It all starts with why, how and what. Cravo supplies four different house models, all with numerous options to suit the crop and client’s requirements.

We have a 10-step process. By the end of the consultation process we should be able to design the lowest cost, most appropriate retractable roof production system to best suit each customer’s requirements and weather conditions.

Cravo retractable roof production systems are extremely flexible for high value crops. House design and future flexibility (equipment or crop) are always considered on the initial design.

Meanwhile, Cravo houses are easily expandable from both the gable and side walls. Additional layers can be added at a later date should market demand create new opportunities for different crops thar require more control.

This is an extract from an interview that appeared in Produce Plus Winter. The Winter edition is now available to read on your phone or tablet via our new app.

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