During the late 1950s and through the 1960s, the Northern Adelaide Plains was developing as a significant new horticulture district. Many vegetable and glasshouse growers were being displaced by urban expansion in Adelaide’s eastern and western suburbs. The Northern Adelaide Plains offered supplies of underground water for irrigation, good well drained sandy soils, a mild low frost incidence climate, and was in close proximity to major markets in Adelaide. By the 1980s, the district had approximately 7,000 ha of irrigated horticulture.
Initially, Northern Adelaide Plains vegetable growers were serviced by a range of Department of Agriculture staff based at Northfield, Adelaide and Lenswood offices. However an array of issues such as declining competitiveness of the glasshouse tomato industry in Melbourne markets, hail storms, the need for adoption of improved irrigation and other technologies prompted locating a dedicated horticultural adviser at Virginia.
Because of a lack of office accommodation in the township of Virginia, a temporary office was established in 1978 on land adjacent to the Virginia Institute on Old Pt Wakefield Road. This temporary office was an old E&WS works site caravan with two desks. This office was particularly noisy as semi trailers rumbled by within a few metres.
In 1980, a more permanent office was subsequently located on land leased from City of Playford (formerly Munno Para Council) at the corner of Penfield and Old Port Wakefield Roads. This building was an old portable school classroom with space for two officers and a small meeting room. The office was generally open to growers two days per week and functioned from this site until establishment of Virginia Horticulture Centre in 1996.
Key staff serving the horticulture community on the Northern Adelaide Plains during the 1980s and 1990s included Geoff Lomman, Barry Philp, Domenic Cavallaro, Steve West, Chris Salter and Michael Nguyen.
A wide range of support, services and industry development activities were offered to horticulture industries out of the Virginia office, including:
- assessment and development of new varieties for tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, carrots and other crops.
- new herbicide management strategies for onions and other crops.
- introduction of new glasshouse designs and production technology from Europe.
- financial support for hail damage, vine pull and other Rural Assistance measures.
- soil and tissue testing, pest and disease diagnosis as well as new Integrated Pest Management techniques for important pests such as Western Flower Thrip.
- improved post harvest handling of produce including new product packaging and wrapping technology.
Cooperation between City of Playford, Northern Regional Development Board, PIRSA, Adelaide Plains NRM Board and grower groups led to the formation of the Virginia Horticulture Centre. Using Commonwealth funds and City of Playford land, a new purpose designed office and service complex was built on land on Pt Wakefield Rd immediately north of the Virginia township. This new complex was opened in 1996.
PIRSA staff played an important role in initial development of Virginia Horticulture Centre, with Mr Gerry Davies being the centre manager for 3.5 years. PIRSA was a funding partner in operation of the Virginia Horticulture Centre for many years.
Subsequently, Virginia Horticulture Centre has become and independent community managed service facility providing support to vegetable growers across the State through a network of regional offices. Included in its facilities are a demonstration glasshouse complex and product packing and processing facilities.
PIRSA staff and other State Government employees servicing Northern Adelaide Plains horticulture industries and delivering industry development projects in the region leased office space at the Virginia Horticulture Centre complex. This continued until February 2010.
PIRSA staff delivering projects and services on the Adelaide Plains are now located in Adelaide and other regional offices.