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TAFE Digital Diploma of Horticulture graduate, Mark Smith, is putting theory into practice at Greensmith’s Wholesale Nursery in Kenthust and is specialising in hydroponics to boost productivity levels of environmentally sustainable plant, fruit and vegetable crops.
Mr Smith said, “The technical intricacies of elevating production levels through hydroponics has become very scientific, so I was advised by my manager to study the Diploma through TAFE Digital as the curriculum is on point in addressing wholesale nursery trends to achieve peak performance.”
In an industry catering to fluctuating demands related to food produce and floral arrangements to celebrate seasonal events such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, anniversaries, birthdays and Christmas, crop delivery plans linked to soil and plant nutritional programs is critical to production levels being steadily monitored and improved upon, while ensuring that quality and quantity targets are met.
“We need to be vigilant and diagnose plant health problems,” said Mr Smith. “An example is our Mother’s Day crop of chrysanthemums where we have to rigorously monitor pest presence of caterpillars, western flower thrips, aphids and white rust infections on a weekly basis.”
As a result of Mr Smith’s studies, he is able to prepare annual sales reports linked to production levels. “At the end of each quarter I can clearly see and understand the cost analysis and profit margins across all product lines,” said Mr Smith. “I then produce a report analysis to plan ahead for ordering and selling of specific crops for the following season.”
Soil and nutritional programs are developed and continually tweaked to support seasonal production plans. During each week of production choices are made and implemented on which type of soil media to use and the rate and type of controlled release fertilizer blend for specific plants. An example is topdressing young chrysanthemums to encourage vigorous vegetative growth to improve plant size before the flower initiates at the 10 week stage.
Managing and fine-tuning equipment and machinery processes means production levels forecast are not only met, but continually improved upon. Mixers, conveyor belts, potting machines, tractors, trailers, trolleys, water pumps and irrigation systems have varying maintenance schedules. “I need to oil the potting mix chain every week, check the tractor is fully serviced annually and ensure that irrigation computers are turned off and unplugged when there are electrical storms to prevent burn-out damages,” said Mr Smith.
Mr Smith had a hectic schedule while studying with working full-time, planning his wedding and regularly attending gym to keep fit. “During work lunch breaks I would speak to the teachers and they’d give me valuable insight into assessments I was working on,” said Mr Smith. “My electronic ‘study buddy’ was the course dashboard on my laptop which I kept close to me and updated as I completed units. It was great seeing the dashboard needle stay within the green range and not slip to amber or red.”
Media contact: Bonny Gunn, TAFE Digital Media Business Partner. M: 0417 134 048.