VIDEO: When horticulture meets aquaculture

Green Camel, in Sydney’s south-west, is raising A$8.5m as it pioneers organic glasshouse farming collocated with barramundi breeding on a commercial scale. Agri Investor got an exclusive tour of the facilities.

Cobbitty is a small town located to the south-west of Sydney in New South Wales, Australia.

There’s nothing special about it at first glance as you drive through – it looks like any other Australian town, albeit one on the verge of being swallowed up by Sydney’s suburban sprawl.

It is home, though, to one interesting agtech company that is in high demand from investors.

Green Camel describes itself as a marriage between biology and technology, using both horticulture and aquaculture on the same site while managing water very carefully, just like the camel in its name.

Agri Investor visited its facility in the first media access that the company has granted to closer look at what it’s doing differently and why investors might be interested in this slice of Australian agtech.

Symbiotic process

Green Camel practices what it calls “symbiotic farming.”

It grows organic tomatoes and leafy greens, supplying Australia’s major supermarkets – and also grows barramundi fish in tanks on site as well.

The system is integrated, with fish waste used as organic fertilizer for the produce, water from the tanks treated and used for irrigation resulting in no toxic water discharge, and the fully grown fish providing an extra income stream.

“We take the fish waste water and treat it for irrigation use,” explains chief executive Johann Havenga. “The only water loss in the entire system is through plant transpiration, so we are very water efficient.”

Green Camel has several glasshouses on the Cobbitty site, situated on land owned by the University of Sydney, with the biggest currently at 0.5 hectares.

Inside these glasshouses, the growing system is semi-automated for efficiency, with bio-degradable pots used to plant the leafy greens on a 21-day growing cycle.

The company has capacity to produce around 180,000 kg of leafy greens and 16,000 kg of tomatoes per year, which it says is equivalent to production levels in commercial hydroponic glasshouses. The difference, though, is that Green Camel’s produce is all organic, thanks to symbiosis with the barramundi.

“This technology allows us to grow organic produce while getting similar yields to commercial agriculture,” Havenga says. “And there’s currently around at least a 30 percent premium for organic produce.”

Attractive returns

That premium is what is attracting the interest of investors.

Agri Investor visits the site with a group of potential investors, with Green Camel seeking to raise A$8.5 million ($6 million; €5.3 million) in capital. That capital will be used for further business expansion and to carry out a list of priority research and development projects, to enable the firm to reach a projected A$100 million in revenue.

The Cobbitty site is undergoing an expansion right now, where a two-hectare glasshouse is under construction and is around 85 percent complete. This will grow tomatoes and barramundi, and form a space that Havenga says will be the largest integrated fish and horticulture facility in the world.

Enrizen Capital has the mandate to manage the fundraising on behalf of Green Camel and associate director Thomas Perrett says that the offer has been well-received by the market, with groups including high-net-worth individuals, corporates, family offices and institutions all examining the company and conducting due diligence.

“It’s one of the most interesting and diverse agtech plays available in Australia right now,” Perrett says.

The fundraising closes at the end of November.

Green Camel has two other projects under development, another in New South Wales and one outside Melbourne, which when complete will see the business grow to 10 times its current size.

That, coupled with the fundraising underway now, is designed to see the business achieve a significant scale.

“No-one produces organic produce in commercial-sized glasshouses like this,” Havenga says. “The magic is in the fish biology and water treatment, and that allows us to grow higher than conventional yields over a 12-month period.”

Australian agtech is a nascent sector, with the pool of venture capital growing and the number of opportunities for investors increasing. Companies like Green Camel could provide opportunities for investors who want exposure to Australian ag without necessarily buying a farm.