Vanilla growing facility set up in Australia
The Vanilla Dome in Newcastle, NSW, is using Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Food and Beverage technology solutions to replicate the specific conditions needed to grow vanilla beans, which are normally produced in tropical regions. The Australian facility will produce vanilla beans — the second most valuable spice on the world market — to support the local food sector, targeting chefs, bakeries, ice-cream companies and producers of fine foods.
To realise the vanilla-bean facility, Australian entrepreneur David Soo partnered with Schneider Electric to install an automation system that creates a tropical climate by opening and closing vents, turning on misting and heating systems and managing irrigation and humidity. The vanilla plants grow on a three-dimensional rotating trellis to allow for healthy and fast-growing plants. The solution also allows for central management and critical response over a wide network to deal with problems quickly and efficiently, either on-site or remotely via a mobile device.
The dome is 11 metres in diameter with approximately 95 m2 of floor space, an internal volume of 350 m3. The structure is able to withstand 160 km winds, rain and hail. It can hold 200 vines, each with a length of 20 m, the equivalent of 4 km of vines to produce a yield of 40,000 beans per harvest when fully mature.
“Vanilla is exceptionally difficult to grow, and 80% of the world’s vanilla is grown in Madagascar from a French vine called Bourbon Vanilla,” David Soo explained. “Pollination has to be done by hand and drying and fermenting is a long and painstaking process.
“Using Schneider Electric technology allows us to offer a solution to growing vanilla in a sustainable way. We can create a Madagascan climate in Newcastle in the middle of winter!
“The idea originally came to me while having dinner with a chef who explained that he held an export licence for Papua New Guinea vanilla beans, but doing business there was very dangerous. He said vanilla was very expensive, there isn’t enough in the world, and it is used in many food and beverage products.
“Schneider Electric has been instrumental in providing the right advice and supply of equipment. I look forward to developing and expanding the Dome Greenhouse technology across Australia,” Soo said.
By weight, vanilla is worth more than silver due to factors including vanilla bean theft, complex pollination, extreme tropical weather, the turn away from artificial vanilla and the rise of natural food. Australia cannot produce commercial-quality vanilla to an international standard due to limited tropical regions, high cost of labour and the difficulties associated with producing the green beans and subsequently processing them into ‘black vanilla’ beans, the final product.
Initiating farming practices that use connected, smart and efficient technology can encourage farmers and manufacturers with bold ideas to digitally transform their business and the sector.
“The number of greenhouses used in the agricultural industry is growing every year, and projects like Vanilla Dome represent the future of horticulture,” said Brad Yager, Director for Industrial Automation at Schneider Electric.
“Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure platform enables a connected and automated system that is easy to scope and install so the farmer or manufacturer can transform standard operations to increase production and gain flexibility. For Vanilla Dome it allows the growing and processing of vanilla a long way from the tropics plus delivering cost savings and reliable supply of high-quality beans,” he said.
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