「科技」草莓園──謝浩誠

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2009 / 9月

文‧滕淑芬 圖‧林格立


26歲的謝浩誠,皮膚黝黑,年紀輕輕就對務農有著濃烈的熱情,也許天生就要吃農業這行飯,他用科技人的思維,幫草莓打造一個呵護備至的生長環境。


高職畢業的謝浩誠,原是惠普公司的電腦維修工程師,和農業完全沒有淵源的他,2007年抱著好玩的心情參加桃園農改場的漂鳥營,竟然就此確定自己的未來不在科技,而是在雙腳踏實踩著的農田上。

喜歡吃草莓的他,在草莓產季可一天吃上一斤。「草莓是高人氣的高經濟作物,不吃的人大多因為害怕農藥過多,我就是要種出不噴農藥的草莓。」漂鳥營結束後,他跟著桃園農改場副場長、被譽為「台灣草莓之父」的李z明實習3個月,熟悉草莓生長的每一個程序。

8個聖筊的保佑

務農先要有地,台北人的謝浩誠委託仲介找地,從基隆看到苗栗,看了一年。去年中,終於找到桃園大溪距離石門水庫不到一公里的農地,附近沒有工廠,水質、土壤純淨,讓人一眼就喜歡,唯一的缺點是正對著一座廟「福山巖」,父母覺得風水上有顧忌,折衷方式是要他進到廟裡問神明,結果神明一連給了8個聖筊,他決定租下,4分地一年租金一萬元。

在台北開計程車的謝爸爸,不忍他一人打拚沒有幫手,地租下後也搬來大溪,和兒子一起開墾農園。

傳統草莓的栽培方式是種在土壤裡,莓農長時間彎腰採果,容易腰酸背痛。20年前日本發明出高架栽培法,在田裡架起到腰身一般高的錏管架,放上長條型、10-15公分深的栽培槽,固定後,充填栽培介質,甚至蓋成階梯式的2、3層,增加栽培面積,草莓苗就種在一列列整齊的栽培槽裡,再配備灌溉系統,讓莓農不必彎腰工作,觀光客也可以站著輕鬆採草莓。

台灣草莓主要產區──苗栗大湖、獅潭地區,面積約有400公頃,都種在土裡,4年前農政單位有心大力推廣,無奈當時國際鋼價高漲,高架設備每分地平均成本約需50萬元,讓許多莓農望而卻步,至今台灣高架草莓的栽培面積只有10公頃。

高架草莓的設備成本已經不低,為了怕嬌嫩的草莓淋到雨水,謝浩誠還幫草莓園蓋了溫室,地上鋪設塑膠布,環境乾淨,防止病蟲滋生。溫室裡架設了排風扇、溫溼度顯示器、自動給水管、肥料調節器等,利用機器控制,達到定時定量給水、施肥的標準化流程,整套機器要價100萬元。

「大湖草莓種在土裡,養分容易流失,肥料下得重,而我這種少量多餐、根系集中的『滴灌』方式,可以節省5倍肥料量,一年約二萬多元,」他說。

草莓是溫帶水果,台灣產季從12月到隔年4月,謝浩誠異想天開,「如果控制好生長條件,未來也許夏天也可以種草莓。」因此他不畏成本,用300萬元高價,打造出一間和養蘭花一樣標準的溫室。

此外,為了取信消費者,他將第一批採收的草莓送往全球最大品質檢驗機構「瑞士通用驗證集團──台灣檢驗科技公司(SGS)」,把「無農藥顯示」的檢驗結果掛在溫室旁。

原來謝浩誠想,只要開放莓園讓遊客前來採草莓,銷售應該沒問題。不料今年年假在2月初,2月下旬到3月中,草莓全紅、長得最茂盛時,竟然沒有對上假期,結果只賣出4成;臨時又找不到加工廠幫忙製作成草莓醋、草莓醬,只好將剩下的全部打掉,估計至少損失60萬元。

科技人的農業思維

除了高架草莓,今年初才種的甜玉米,栽植法也很別出心裁。溫室前一小塊玉米田,一邊約有1,000棵玉米種在土裡,另一邊6,000棵則種在以不織布製成的「美植袋」裡,美植袋裡放入椰殼纖維、中藥渣和有機肥,地上鋪上一層黑色塑膠布,玉米完全不會接觸土壤。

直徑1.8呎、30公分深的美植袋,大多用來種植庭園花木,兩邊有提把設計,方便移動。去年一名遊客看到他的玉米田裡雜草叢生,建議他可以試試這方法,為「春風吹又生」的雜草苦惱不已的他,就大膽進行新實驗。

「我曾經請三十多人來拔雜草,結果2星期後又長到小腿這麼高。」謝浩誠說,種在美植袋裡的另一個好處是,萬一租約到期地主要收回農地,要「打包」移走作物也很方便,而且養分不易流失,至少省下一半肥料。

去年曾有科技公司福委員會來電詢問,能不能接待200人來園裡採草莓?但因為果園不大,只好忍痛拒絕。

今年,另一名33歲年輕的漂鳥族陳威伸,在網路上看到他的科技草莓園,也想加入種草莓的行列,透過謝浩誠幫忙,如今兩人的草莓園就隔著一條馬路相望,陳威伸還計畫在園裡蓋間餐廳,經營複合式休閒農業,也許一兩年後,大溪又多了一塊草莓園區。

雖然第一年缺少經驗,果園營收不如預期,但懷抱希望的謝浩誠預估今年營收應該可以破百萬,他更劃下3年後要還完300萬元貸款的願景,以他年輕的拚勁,成功應該不遠。

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近期文章

EN

Strawberry Engineer Xie Haocheng

Teng Sue-feng /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Phil Newell

Twenty-six-year-old Xie Haocheng has a deep passion for farm work. With his naturally dark complexion, you could say he was born for the rural lifestyle. But this is no country bumpkin: the environment he has created for growing strawberries looks like something only an engineer could think up.


Xie Haocheng, whose highest academic degree was vocational high school, worked as a computer repair technician for Hewlett-Packard in Taiwan, and until early adulthood he had absolutely no connection with agriculture at all. In 2007, just on a whim, he joined the "Piao Niao" agriculture experience camp held at the Taoyuan District Agricultural Research and Extension Station (ARES), and reached the amazing conclusion that his future lay not in technology, but in treading through the fields.

Xie, who loves strawberries himself, can consume a catty (600 grams) per day during picking season. "Strawberries are very popular right now, and very profitable as well. The only reason some people won't eat them is that they are afraid of pesticides, so I decided to raise mine pesticide-free." After completing the camp, Xie spent three months doing an internship with Lee Chuang-ming, the vice director of the Taoyuan ARES, who is also known as "the father of Taiwanese strawberries." With Lee he learned about every step in the strawberry-growing process.

Go-ahead from the gods

Farming starts with land. Xie, from Taipei, put his quest in the hands of a realtor. He looked at plots from Keelung to Miaoli for a year until finally, in the middle of last year, he found some farmland in Daxi, Taoyuan County, less than a kilometer from the Shihmen Reservoir. There are no factories in the area, and the water and soil are untainted. The only problem was that there was a temple directly opposite the parcel, and Xie's parents were worried that the fengshui could be unlucky. They finally agreed that Xie could rent the land if he got the approval of the deity in the temple, so Xie went and asked, and got eight straight positive responses! He now rents 4000 square meters (four-tenths of a hectare) of land for NT$10,000 per year. In the end, Xie's dad, a taxi driver in Taipei, also moved out to Daxi to lend a hand getting the farm up and running.

The traditional method of cultivating strawberries was just to plant them in the soil, but then picking required a lot of bending, and was bad for the back. But 20 years ago a new system for raising strawberries was invented in Japan, using tubular-frame racks that come up to waist level or higher. You just set up the racks, and fill them with a growth medium; you can even set up two or three tiers, multiplying the cultivated area, and hook up an automated watering system as well. The strawberries thus grow in neat rows, and not only do farmers themselves no longer need to break their backs, tourists can come and have a pleasurable time picking their own.

In Taiwan's main strawberry growing areas in Miaoli County, there are 400 hectares devoted to the crop, all planted directly in the soil. Four years ago the county's agricultural authorities tried to promote the use of racks, but that was just when the international price of materials was soaring, and it would have cost NT$500,000 for each 1000 square meters of land. So most farmers, though willing in principle, took no action, and today there are only 10 hectares equipped with strawberry racks in all of Taiwan.

Though the racks already cost quite a lot, Xie has gone further to protect his precious berries, building a greenhouse to shelter them from rain and covering the ground in plastic to deter the spread of disease or insect pests. Inside the greenhouse are exhaust fans, thermometers, barometers, water pipes, fertilizer mixers, and more, all controlled by machine. Water and fertilizer are given to the plants at preset times. The equipment cost NT$1 million.

Xie relates: "Strawberries grown in Miaoli County are planted in the ground, but the soil doesn't retain the nutrients very well, which means they need piles of fertilizer. But with mine, I add just a bit of fertilizer several times a day, dripping it directly onto the root systems, so I can get the same results with just one-fifth the fertilizer. That saves me about NT$20,000 a year."

Strawberries are temperate-zone fruits, so in subtropical Taiwan the growing season is from December to April. But Xie has his sights set even higher. "If the growing conditions are properly controlled, it may be possible in the future to grow strawberries in the summer." This is why he didn't shrink from the NT$3 million expense of putting up an orchid-quality greenhouse.

Moreover, in order to win the trust of consumers, Xie sent his first batch of berries to the Taiwanese branch of SGS of Switzerland, the world's largest quality inspection organization. He now proudly hangs the certificate "pesticide-free" on the side of the greenhouse.

Xie originally assumed that if tourists came to the farm to pick their own berries, there would be no worries about sales. But this year the Lunar New Year holiday fell in early February. When the strawberries were bursting with ripeness in late February and early March, the vacation period had passed, and he only sold 40% of his crop. On such short notice he also couldn't find any processing plants to take the rest, so they went to waste. He estimates that he lost NT$600,000 in potential income.

High-tech thinking

It is not only with strawberry racks that Xie's growing methods surprise-you should also check out the corn that he planted early this year. Besides having 1000 stalks of corn planted in the soil, there are also 6000 corn stalks in bags made from non-woven fabric. Inside each bag is soil mixed with the fibers of coconut husks, the dregs from Chinese medicine, and organic fertilizer. Black plastic is spread under the bags, so that the corn never comes into contact with the ground.

These bags, 55 cm in radius and about 30 cm deep, are generally used in growing flowers and plants for private gardens. Last year a visitor to the farm, noticing the weeds flourishing in the corn, suggested to Xie that he give the bag method a try. "I used to have to hire more than 30 people to pull weeds, but two weeks later they had grown back as high as your knee," says Xie with exasperation. As a bonus, the bags-equipped with handles on each side-are easy to relocate should the landlord suddenly terminate the lease. Also, the nutrients in the soil don't leach away, so you can cut your fertilizer use in half.

Due to inexperience in his first year, Xie did not earn nearly very much from the farm. But, ever hopeful, he expects to break the NT$1 million mark in revenues this year, and he plans to repay all of his NT$3 million loan in three years. Given his youthful energy and determination, success seems just around the corner.

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