ACROSS our great brown land vegetable growers are suffering, according to the latest statistics, but not Wardell cucumber grower Carlo Pippo.
He attributes three things to his success - his hydroponic greenhouses, hard work, and his biggest customer, Coles.
The cucumber farm has tripled in size over the past five years and he plans to double production again in the next five.
The farm has eight batches on rotation at all times, and turns around four entire crops a year in each shed, with each crop taking 40 days from seed to fully grown. It's a pretty busy routine.
"Nine months of the year we work seven days a week - we pick, pack, and send every day - and three months of the year we can maybe have a day off each week," Mr Pippo said.
"You haven't got time to stop."
Hydroponic greenhouses produce 10 times the volume of open fields, and protect the crop from bad weather, making production very reliable; more like a factory than a field.
"They are the way of the future," Mr Pippo said.
"You use a tenth of the water and very little is wasted... you're not losing crops through the weather."
The lifetime grower left school at 12 to start growing tomatoes with his father in western Sydney, before moving to the 50ha Wardell property when the family's Penrith farm became too small.
At 20 years old, Mr Pippo suggested the father-son team build a 350sq m hothouse during a bad run of weather.
"When we started with the produce undercover, a Coles store opened up in Ballina," he said, recalling the moment he made his first local supply agreement with the supermarket giant.
"So we started with Ballina Coles, and they were very happy with the product, and as we got bigger we went to Lismore Coles, and then we went to Murwillumbah, Tweed City, Tweed Mall, Banora Point."
Soon after they were delivering to every Coles store from Grafton to Morayfield north of Brisbane.
"Eight years ago we started delivering direct to Coles DC (distribution centre) in Brisbane. Then we bought the farm off my father, and within six months Coles asked me to trial some cucumbers, because they were having trouble finding reasonable cucumbers."
"They went really well, so they asked us to grow a few more."
"Within 18 months of buying the farm off Dad we stopped growing tomatoes and turned the whole farm into cucumbers."
HISTORY OF THE CUCUMBER
- Originated in India
- Cucumbers are mentioned in the Bible as one of the foods eaten by the Israelites in Egypt.
- Introduced to Europe by the Greeks or Romans
- According to ancient historian Pliny, the Roman Emperor Tiberius had a cucumber on his table every day of the year, and the Romans used greenhouse-style methods to ensure it was available.
- China now grows 60% of the world's cucumbers.
- Most popular sliced and cubed raw in salads, or pickled in brine or vinegar.