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Cherry orchard of the future takes shape in southern Tasmania

A four-hectare greenhouse is nearing completion in what is believed to be a world-first trial of growing cherries under controlled conditions.  On the site, near Jericho in southern Tasmania, the massive greenhouse is already home to young cherry trees, planted in November last year.

The trial is being run by Reid Fruits with innovation grant assistance from the Federal Government.  Managing Director Tim Reid said the site looks very different from when work began just 14 months ago.

"It was bare soil, dry and dusty in the summer, a few sheep running around and entirely different from what it looks right now," he said.  "This is 40,000 square metres under a retractable roof, known around the world as a Cravo greenhouse."

Mr Reid said the greenhouse could be used to bring the fruiting of the trees on early by closing it in late winter, but that was not the primary intention. "We actually intend to leave the roof open and use the natural timing of the cool weather; we're trying to extend our season out to the tail end by a couple of weeks." he said.

The greenhouse roof and sides are electrically driven and set up on a computer-controlled system, which can open and close automatically when conditions change.  The entire greenhouse can be opened or closed in just two minutes and the greenhouse and the irrigation can be remotely controlled from anywhere with an internet connection.

Mr Reid believed this was the first commercial retractable roof greenhouse of its type to be used for cherry production in the world.

The trial draws its water from the Southern Midlands Irrigation Scheme, which Mr Reid believed had added a whole new dimension to the Midlands of Tasmania.

"I'm sure you're going to see more and more of this sort of horticultural development around that water scheme," he said.  The first picking of some fruit from the Jericho orchard was expected in the third year of operation, but full cropping was not anticipated until the fifth year.

(From ABC Rural - 9 March 2017)