Giant Greenhouse to Grow Salad Year-Round

Leaderbrand chief executive Richard Burke

Leaderbrand, New Zealand's largest broccoli grower, is building a giant greenhouse to grow salad leaves all year round in what is considered the first greenhouse of its kind in New Zealand.

Leaderbrand chief executive Richard Burke said the large greenhouses were common in Europe and Japan, but few are in New Zealand, and none are used to grow crops directly in the ground.

Funded with a loan from the Provincial Growth Fund, the project hit some bumps in the road last year as the country went into lockdown and borders closed.

The idea was the greenhouse would allow year-round production and be a step towards being more environmentally sustainable. The greenhouse would create a more consistent crop, unaffected by weather, which would, in turn, provide more jobs throughout the year.

The controlled environment would result in less fertiliser and precise water usage, Burke added.

These types of projects had not been done before due to their capital intensity and uncertain outcomes.

Salad growing operations were not particularly sophisticated in New Zealand, but the Provincial Growth Fund had given Burke the confidence to try. Winter salad supply would improve, but the greenhouse would not meet demand.

It is a pilot programme to discover the financial implications and how it will operate to determine the next step, said Burke.

The greenhouse project started after extensive research in 2019, but the ongoing lockdowns, international shipping delays and border restrictions had hindered construction. The concrete for the irrigation shed has been laid, and a new 40 million litre dam and treatment tank has been built. The dam would supply the greenhouse with treated rainwater.

The novelty is in the size and scale, said Burke. It is 11 hectares under one roof, and production, such as growing and harvesting with tractors, would be similar to processes outdoors.