Coles is harvesting simultaneously grown herbs and barramundi

Tuesday, 19 November, 2013

Urban Ecological Systems Australia (UESA) is growing herbs and barramundi simultaneously - with zero effluent - in Western Sydney. And Coles (and a $1.9m Early Stage Commercialisation grant) has helped to make the low-energy, sustainable, organic food production system a commercial reality.

In a $5m integrated glasshouse and aquaculture polyculture system on University of Sydney land in Cobbity, in Western Sydney, beds of herbs are linked by a complex system of pipes to water tanks containing barramundi. The concept is beautifully simple and effective - as the barramundi grow, their waste is biologically transformed into safe plant nutrients and then used to feed parsley, basil and coriander. The only way that water leaves the system is through evaporation from the plants. As no effluent is produced, the system is particularly suited to urban and residential environments.

It is estimated that 90% of UESA’s income will come from herbs sold to Coles, with the barramundi accounting for 10%.

Forecast to produce 129,000 basil, parsley and coriander plants every 28 days and the equivalent of 15,000 to 20,000 kilograms of barramundi a year, UESA’a polyculture system produces 10 times more organically certifiable food than traditional field horticulture.

UESA is not a simple overnight success story - seven years ago the polyculture system won an episode on the ABC’s New Inventors program. Since then, with support from Commercialisation Australia,  R&D facility scale-up and technology optimisation was achieved at a greenfield site near Narellan in NSW.

Now, a five-year organic produce supply agreement with Coles has given certainty to the commercialisation of the project.

In the future, USEA aims to be carbon neutral - which will be a rare outcome if it can be achieved for food production. The company is looking at several renewable energy solutions including solar energy for heating and lighting in the glasshouse to become carbon neutral.

To replace chemicals, UESA already uses beneficial insects - such as parasitic wasps, predatory mites and lady bugs - to control harmful pests.

As part of UESA’s lease arrangement with the University of Sydney, the company has a research agreement which allows academic research to be undertaken at the site. Currently, the company and university are working together to convert household food waste into insect larvae and then be processed into fish food.

Source: Commercialisation Australia - Value Proposition magazine, October 2013, pp 30-31.

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