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Vegetable Research Station - Frankston

Vegetable Research Station - FrankstonHistory and Development

In June, 1959, the Victorian Vegetable Growers' Association approached the late Sir Gilbert Chandler, Minister of Agriculture at the time, with the request that consideration be given to the establishment of a vegetable research station in the sands area.

The Vegetable Growers' Association asked that particular consideration be given to a "suitable" area of about 114 hectares of crown land in the north-eastern corner of the former Frankston pine plantation.

The plantation, laid out in the depression years, was burnt out in a disastrous fire in 1954.  Regrowth consisted of dense clumps of seedling pines, tea-tree and eucalypts, among the numerous large tree stumps left from the fire.  The area is roughly bisected by a small creek, known as Boggy Creek.

During late 1959 and 1960, officers of the Department of Agriculture conducted exhaustive investigations which included the relative importance of the vegetable industry on sandy soils, the importance to the industry of research work and the general suitability of the proposed area.

In 1961, after favorable preliminary findings, the Department of Crown Lands and Survey was asked to reserve the area against alienation, pending Cabinet's decision to establish it as a vegetable research station.

As the decision to develop the station depended upon the availability of good underground water, the Department of Mines was called in to make this investigation and in July 1962 found excellent water at a depth of only 35 metres.

When developed, the bore proved capable of producing around 41,000 litres an hour which, when later pumped to a holding dam, has proved adequate for the Station's needs to this day.  The comparatively low salt content of the water, 540 parts per million, has been quite suitable for vegetable production.

The problems and difficulties in converting coastal scrubland into an area for vegetable research became apparent in 1962 when a preliminary study indicated that much of the work would have to be carried out by officers of the Vegetable Branch. 

Early in 1963, Mr Ken J. Stubbs, the present Farm Manager, was given the responsibility for the development program at Frankston. The first clearing of 20 hectares was completed by the middle of 1963 and this area was ploughed and limed.

The first Station building, a corrugated galvanised iron farm shed, measuring 12 x 6 metres was erected to house fertiliser and machinery. A Nuffield 60 HP tractor and Harvey rotary slasher, purchased that year, were used to clear more of the area, including access roads and fencelines.

Extensive soil and drainage surveys were carried out to ascertain the most suitable positions for vegetable trials; equipment purchased in 1963 was put to good use in the initial development.

In the autumn of 1964, 20 hectares of pasture was sown and windrows from the initial clearing burnt, care being taken to burn well away from proposed experimental areas. During 1964-65 the future of the Vegetable Research Station was in jeopardy, when the Defence Department showed an interest in the area for army training purposes.  Money allocation, and consequently developmental work, was suspended until the all clear, late in 1965.

In May 1965, Mr. Terry J. Piggott was appointed Officer in Charge of the Vegetable Research Station, Frankston. Activity increased in 1966 with the vegetable trial area being levelled and graded, some drainage work undertaken and roads and headlands formed. The area was surrounded with rabbit-proof fencing and a 4.5 ML dam excavated and filled from the bore. Some of the area was sown down to green manure crops.

Field & Gadjet day 1967For the first time, the Victorian Vegetable Growers' Association was able to hold its annual Field and Gadget Day at the Station.

The end of 1967 saw the initial development almost completed, an irrigation system installed and vegetable trials well established.

The first major trial, the permanent fertiliser trial, was laid down in May, 1967.

A second tractor, a light, high-clearance, row-crop type, was purchased and a large general purpose farm shed built and alterations made to the existing shed to provide a field office, store and some staff facilities. An enclosure was erected and equipment installed by the Bureau of Meteorology for accurate weather records.

By the spring of 1968, an extensive range of vegetables were being grown under trial conditions using overhead sprinkler irrigation.  In addition to fertiliser trials, the investigation of a multitude of problems in the vegetable industry was now possible at the Station instead of on growers' properties as before. 

Trials to evaluate selective weed control chemicals, cultivars, pest and disease control chemicals, green manure crops, to mention a few, were established.

This year also saw the completion of a residence for the Officer in Charge, which provided some security to the trial area.

Throughout 1969 research on vegetable crops was consolidated and expanded.  Trials were initiated on trickle irrigation;  plastic mulches, windbreak materials, placement of fertilisers and foliar nutrients.  An important finding was the need for copper for vegetable crops, particularly lettuce and carrots, growing on impoverished sands.

In co-operation with the Plant Research Institute, Burnley, trials were laid down to investigate cultivar resistance to sub clover stunt virus in peas and beans.  Co-operative trials with the Potato Branch were undertaken on the problem of nutritional leaf roll in potatoes.

In 1970, the Victorian Vegetable Growers' Association donated a small glasshouse to the Station.  This enabled valuable spot tests to be done with herbicides and nutrients in culture solutions. Other events included the construction of a hay shed and the transfer of a Vegetable Branch tractor from the Horticultural Research Institute, Knoxfield, to Frankston.

Chemical weed control trials were expanded to cover a wider range of crops and extensive cultivar evaluations of carrots (including baby carrots), lettuce, onions, zucchini  marrows and capsicums were carried out.

More work was undertaken on the effects of foliar-applied fertilisers;  testing of new plastic materials for windbreaks; and daily flow irrigation in conjunction with polythene mulches.  Investigations were also started on methods of increasing the storage life of celery using growth regulants.

Early in 1971, Professor Philip A. Minges, Professor of Vegetable Crops and Extension Specialist at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, worked at Frankston for five months. The staff benefited from his experience, particularly in the evaluation of vegetable cultivars.  During his stay many new American cultivars were grown and assessed at Frankston.

About half the Station staff moved on site from the adjoining Keith Turnbull Research Institute in 1972, when temporary office accommodation was built. An open-sided machinery shed and extensions to the existing fertiliser shed and vegetable washing area were also completed.

August 1973 was a milestone in the development of the Station with the laying of the foundations for the long-awaited administration building and laboratories.  The building was designed to accommodate the staff of both the Vegetable Research Station and the Turf Research and Advisory Institute which had started soil preparations for turf research work on the Vegetable Research Station site in May, 1973.

The same year, a large insect-proof shade house was built for the Victorian Plant Research Institute to study the control of tulip breaking virus,  A further two hectares of scrub were cleared and sown to green manure crops for future vegetable trials.

The building of the new administration block continued through 1974 with the formation and sealing of access roads and the laying of kerb and channelling. A caretaker's residence and a lock-up shed for agricultural pesticides were completed in the same year.

By April, 1975, the new building was staffed and in operation. Lawns were sown and garden surrounds completed before the winter.

During the latter part of the year a grant of $30,000 through the Australian Government's Regional Employment Development Scheme (R.E.D.S.), enabled the clearing of 15 hectares for a new experimental site.

That same year, when the Government Cool Stores at Port Melbourne closed down, the Station received another bonus in the form of used equipment which included a much-needed tray truck and a fork lift.

This brief account takes the history of the Vegetable Research Station up to August, 1976.  This year (1976) has seen the near completion of an additional four hectares for vegetable production in the new area. A detailed soil survey of the new area has been carried out. Water has been piped from the existing dam to the site of a proposed second dam.

VRS-Frankston Staff - 1976

Terry  Piggott - Officer in Charge
Ken  Stubbs - Farm Manager
Alex  Morgans - Research
C.C.  Hunter - Research
Bill  Birkenhead - Research
R.T.  Male - Research
Ross  Clarke - Research
Dick  Gardner - Extension
C.R.  Ebsary -Farm
G.K.  Prosser - Farm
R.H.  Peck - Farm
Eddie  Fenton - Farm
D.A,  McPherson - Farm
A.J.  Lloyd -Admin
Miss  M. Sando - Admin

The trial area has been graded, headlands formed, and sown down to green manure crops. Windbreak trees have been planted around and through the new area. It is only thirteen years since the clearing began of the wilderness where the Station now stands, and those in the vegetable industry and the Department of Agriculture who have been associated with this development may well feel proud.

The Vegetable Research Station has received the acclaim of local, interstate and overseas visitors whose interests lie in fields of horticultural research. With the ever-increasing need for technology to produce more and more food for the world's increasing population, the role of this Station appears clear for many years to come.

Aims and Scope of Research

The Vegetable Research Station was established to provide vegetable producers and groups servicing the Vegetable Industry with information based on scientific investigations.

Research priority is given to investigations of applied problems of greatest economic importance to the industry.  These problems are defined through close liaison between extension and research officers of the Row Crops Branch and between these officers and industry leaders through the Station's research sub-committee which includes the executive of the Victorian Vegetable Growers' Association. 

Officers of the branch are also in close contact with representatives of supporting agri-businesses such as chemical companies, processors, seedsmen and agricultural equipment groups, who are often involved in co-operative research investigations.

Initial experimental work at the Station was mainly confined to plant nutrition, weed control and cultivar appraisal, as determined by the available staff and their expertise.  More recently, the work has been extended to include pests and diseases and plant density studies.

Experimental programs include long and short-term statistically designed trials through to unreplicated observational trials depending on the complexity of the problem being investigated.

The Station shared facilities with the Turf Research and Advisory Institute and provided field research facilities for the Plant Research Institute - Burnley;  Potato Research Station - Toolangi;  AQIS Plant Quarantine and other organisations such as CSIRO and teaching universities.


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