Australian start-up is disrupting the valuable Vanilla spice world market

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 1st August 2019

Schneider Electric, the leader in digital transformation of energy management and automation, has partnered with Australian entrepreneur David Soo to create Australia’s first growing facility for vanilla beans, the second most valuable spice in the world market.

The Vanilla Dome in Newcastle, New South Wales, uses Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Food and Beverage technology solutions to replicate the delicate conditions needed to grow vanilla beans which are normally produced in tropical regions.

“Vanilla is exceptionally difficult to grow, and 80 percent of the world’s vanilla is grown in Madagascar from a French vine called Bourbon Vanilla,” said David Soo. “Pollination has to be done by hand and drying and fermenting is a long and painstaking process.”

“Using Schneider Electric technology allows us to offer a solution to growing vanilla in a sustainable way. We can create a Madagascan climate in Newcastle in the middle of winter!”

“The idea originally came to me David while having dinner with a chef who explained that he held an export license for Papua New Guinea vanilla beans, but doing business there was very dangerous. He said vanilla was very expensive, there isn’t enough in the world, and it is used in many food and beverage products.”

Vanilla is worth more by weight than silver because of a number of factors, including vanilla bean theft, complex pollination, extreme tropical weather, the turn away from artificial vanilla and the rise of natural food.

Australia cannot produce international standard vanilla in commercial quality due to the limited tropical area, high cost of labour and the difficulties associated with producing the green beans and subsequently processing them to final product which is ‘black vanilla’ beans.

By initiating a future farming practice that uses available connected, smart and efficient technology can encourage farmers and manufacturers with bold ideas to digitally transform their business and sector.

“The number of greenhouses used in the agricultural industry is growing every year, and projects like Vanilla Dome represents the future of horticulture,” said Brad Yager, Director for Industrial Automation at Schneider Electric.

“Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure platform enables a connected and automated system that is easy to scope and install so the farmer or manufacturer can transform standard operations to increase production and gain flexibility. For Vanilla Dome it, allows the growing and processing of vanilla a long way from the tropics, plus delivering cost savings and reliable supply of high quality beans.”

The Schneider Electric automation system created a tropical climate through the opening and closing of vents, turning on misting and heating systems and managing irrigation and humidity. The vanilla plants grow on a 3 dimensional rotating trellis. By rotating and repositioning the plants daily, they grow faster and healthier.

The solution also allows for central management and critical response over a wide area network to deal with problems quickly and efficiently either at the site or remotely via a mobile device.

The dome is 11 metres in diameter and has approximately 95sqm of floor space, an internal volume of 350 cubic metres, and can withstand 160-kilometre winds, rain and hail. It can hold 200 vines each with a length of 20 metres, the equivalent of 4km of vines to produce a yield of 40,000 beans per harvest when fully mature.

“Schneider Electric has been instrumental in providing the right advice and supply of equipment. I look forward to developing and expanding the Dome Greenhouse technology across Australia,” Soo said.