THAT abandoned parking lot just down the road has the potential to be pumping out hydroponic lettuce.
It's not out of the realm of possibility according to a report into the potential for high-tech growing solutions in Australia.
Commissioned by Hort Innovation, and developed by agricultural consultancy RMCG in partnership with University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and global urban agriculture consultancy Agritecture, the Opportunities for High Technology Horticulture in Australia report considers effective urban farming applications being utilised overseas, in the Australian context.
The report analysed the types of high-technology farming operations that could work in Australia.
It has made a number of recommendations to improve the feasibility of the approach, such as capacity building for producers and improving social acceptance through community engagement.
The study was guided by an industry-led reference group including growers and emerging commercial leaders engaged in urban high-technology horticulture in Brisbane and Sydney, members of local city councils, and subject-matter experts in protected cropping.
Urban farms have begun to pop up in places throughout Australia, including Modular Farms Co in Brisbane, Eden Towers in Perth and Vertical Farm Systems on the Sunshine Coast.
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Hort Innovation research and development manager Dr Vino Rajandran said high-technology urban farming is an emerging part of the horticulture sector in Australia.
He said, despite low adoption of these new high-technology production systems in Australia compared to Asia, North America and Europe, there is increasing interest.
"As Australia's climate becomes increasingly variable, the consumer demand for locally-grown produce increases and sustainable production comes to the fore, technology-controlled local production systems are attracting more interest," he said.
Dr Rajandran said high-technology urban horticulture systems are a natural complement to traditional horticulture production systems and that the emerging industry will need to identify its value proposition in the Australian context.
"High-tech urban farming has the potential to attract a younger, more technology-oriented generation towards farming, and offer opportunities for technology-based graduates to join the industry," he said.
The report reviewed systems such as rooftop and floating glasshouses, growing approaches using building facades and inside building production.
But not all systems were viable in Australia, according to RMCG associate Dr Kristen Stirling.
"High-technology horticulture has its benefits over field-based production, in that it can be climate controlled, and production is not necessarily based on certain seasons," she said.
"However, there are factors that increase cost such as high land prices in city areas and the significant expenditure required to establish glasshouses inside or on top of buildings.
"In terms of social, financial and environmental performance, we found the best performing high-technology system for Australian conditions was the building facade, followed by a rooftop glasshouse using a vertical production system."
Dr Stirling said the success of individual enterprises was also heavily dependent on the product line chosen, the business model used and the skill and aptitude of the farm manager.
"High-technology horticulture, like any other agricultural enterprise, is a business that requires careful planning and good management," she said.
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