Damien Manno: Developing an efficient, environmentally-friendly growing operation
Damien Manno is a 37-year-old grower from Quality Harvest in Kudla, SA. We profiled him in the November/December 2018 edition of Vegetables Australia magazine.
Name: Damien Manno
Location: Kudla, SA
Works: Quality Harvest Pty Ltd
Grows: Herbs, lettuce, Asian vegetables, strawberries
How did you first become involved in the vegetable industry?
I grew up on my father’s vineyard so growing produce was always there. I think that initial exposure to farming at a young age and the great work ethic we were brought up with led me to be curious about how other produce is grown and can be produced. So hydroponics was a great place to start, whether it’s nutrient film technique or growing in substrate.
What does your role in Quality Harvest involve, and what are your responsibilities?
As the Director of Quality Harvest, my role involves the day-to-day running of the company, but mainly focusing on the growing side of things.
Why did you decide to establish a hydroponic growing operation?
The main reason for establishing a hydroponic growing operation was to produce a cleaner, better product. As consumer awareness on food production is growing, we wanted to bring a product that has fewer pesticides than other practices and to farm with minimal impact on the environment.
What are the benefits of having a hydroponic growing operation as opposed to an open field?
Hydroponics is a highly efficient way to provide water and nutrients to plants. By maintaining the desired balance of nutrients, water and oxygen to the plant roots, plants grow faster, plant density can be increased and with a faster turnaround which produces greater yields per square metre.
What are the biggest challenges you face working in the industry, and how do you overcome them?
Finding people with good work ethic is always a challenge. We have great employees that are an asset to the company, and we definitely couldn’t have achieved what we have in such a short time without them (they know who they are).
Are there any challenges that you, as a hydroponic grower, face (that other growers may not)?
One of the challenges as a hydroponic grower is consumer awareness of hydroponic produce. Some presume that it is chemically grown and artificial where, in fact, all we are doing is giving the plant the optimal nutrients to grow with less pesticides than other farming practices, resulting in a healthier, edible plant.
"We have great employees that are an asset to the company, and we definitely couldn’t have achieved what we have in such a short time without them."
What do you enjoy most about working in the vegetable industry and how do you maintain your enthusiasm?
I love to hear feedback on our products, whether it’s good or bad. It’s the bad feedback that pushes you harder to achieve a greater product. It’s an ever-changing industry, so to plant new products and varieties always keeps it interesting.
Where do you receive your on-farm practice advice and information from?
I receive on-farm practice advice from industry consultants, suppliers and conferences run by industry specialists.
What new innovations, research and/or practices has your business implemented recently? What are you doing different to other growing operations?
Recently we have implemented Integrated Pest Management into our Asian veg and lettuces to help with disease pressure, which is working extremely well.
Where do you see opportunities for growth in the Australian vegetable industry?
Depends on market demand. I feel as a hydroponic grower more niche markets would be a good place to start.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Expanding our operations and growing more quality produce. I would like to play around with aquaponics, which is a system that uses aquaculture (the raising of fish) with hydroponics (the growing of plants) in a soilless integrated system. The waste in the water from the fish are used to feed the plants, therefore it doesn’t require any fertilisers to be added to the system.
How do you think more young people could be encouraged to study and take up jobs in the vegetable industry?
I believe our industry is under-marketed and under-supported by our tertiary education providers. There is very limited information to support young people and women who may wish to study and take up jobs within the industry.