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Hydroponic Business Cleaning Up

MEDIA RELEASE – 14 May 2001


Business is booming for a New Plymouth hydroponic nursery, which has just made a research breakthrough that has scientists baffled.

Fighting phytoxera - the root disease that is the bane of hydroponic growers around the world - looks to have taken a step forward with the accidental discovery of an effective sanitising agent.

Russell Jordan, of Jordan Nursery, explains the happy co-incidence. “A couple of years ago we were growing sprouts (alfalfa and snow peas) and having problems with bacterial contamination of the seeds and roots which was affecting the keeping qualities. We were experimenting with different types of sanitising agents and I picked up the wrong container and gave the seeds a good dose.”

The result amazed both grower and scientists. “There was a huge change in the germination within 24 hours and we figured the plants had put on a growth spurt and were just simply outgrowing the bacteria.”

However, uncertainty about the reliability of sprout production saw the company move solely into hydroponic production of lettuces and herbs, and begin the battle to keep phytoxera at bay.

"The root disease affects production rather than at the consumer end, but it’s not easy to get rid of,” says Mr Jordan. “We couldn’t interrupt our production to stop the nursery and clean it out with the traditional (formalin) methods, so we thought we’d try the same technique that worked with the sprouts.”

Again, the results defied logic; so much so that Mr Jordan, as chairman of the Vegetable Research Council, decided to get some serious research himself. The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology helped with funding from Technology New Zealand’s Technology for Business Growth programme, enabling the company to call in Crop and Food Research to look at the science behind the discovery.

“What we found in the end was that the sanitising agent was boosting plant growth and keeping any root disease under control. It gave us confidence to develop a treatment process, so if we did have a problem we had the answer to get on top of it straight away.”

Mr Jordan says Crop and Food scientists found a similar research project has just begun in the US (“ they’re about where we were a couple of years back”). The 20 year old company supplies the lower North Island with lettuces and herbs and is now poised to make some interesting decisions.

“We are at the stage of deciding how to make the research results available to the industry – and even whether we can maximise this off-shore,” he says. “It looks to be a fairly simple solution to a long term problem for many growers, so it is probable we will share it industry-wide.”


For more information:

- Russell Jordan, 06 752 0634, or 025 572753
- Tony Hadfield, Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, 04 917 7812, 025 454 095

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