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Eggplant on the rise in Flemish greenhouse and on our plate

Eggplant cultivation is often associated with southern countries such as Spain and Italy. But in Flanders, too, the fruit thrives in greenhouses and cultivation is on the rise.

Eggplant cultivation is often associated with southern countries such as Spain and Italy. But in Flanders, too, the fruit thrives in greenhouses and cultivation is on the rise. 
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eggplant picking

The Heulens family in Vremde in Antwerp was one of the first aubergine growers and is now the largest in Flanders. “There is still enormous potential in Belgium if people learn to eat the vegetables.

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Eggplants are often mentioned in the same breath as courgettes, but they belong to a different family, the nightshade family. Unlike its American cousins ​​tomato, potato, paprika and chili pepper, the roots of this fruit vegetable are not in the West but in the Far East. The Arabs brought the aubergine to Spain, from where it conquered the rest of Europe.

The popularity of the Mediterranean cuisine in our regions has introduced us to the aubergine. In Flanders, vegetables are inextricably linked with dishes such as moussaka and melanzane. Today, more and more vegetarians are putting ‘vegetable steak’ on the menu as a meat substitute, and the versatility of the aubergine is increasingly appreciated.

Although we have started to eat twice as many aubergines in ten years, the average consumption of them is only about 600 grams per year. Southern Europeans, for example, eat an average of six to ten kilograms of aubergine per year. Not only is the fruit of the eggplant (in English it has eggplant, ed .) still relatively unknown, there is also a lot of ignorance about its cultivation. A market survey by iVOX among a thousand Belgians in 2020 shows that only one in five knows that aubergines are also grown in our country.

Largest Flemish grower opens doors

In order to increase the fame and popularity of the fruit, the BelOrta grower family Heulens decided this week to open their doors and invite journalists to their company, which is the largest eggplant grower in the country with 7.5 hectares. The company in Vremse, near Antwerp, is run by brothers Jan and Tom and sister Ann. They took over the company from their parents who switched from growing tomatoes to aubergines in the 1990s. This made them one of the first growers in our country.

Over the years, the number of aubergine growers has risen sharply. In 2021, Belgium has 23.62 hectares of aubergine cultivation under glass. The cooperative vegetable and fruit auction BelOrta has contracted eight aubergine growers – two Dutch and six Flemish companies – good for a production of 12,500 tons of aubergines on an annual basis. Sixty percent of Belgian production is exported, while forty percent remains in Belgium.

Tropical rainforest

In May, when the days lengthen, the company is very busy. Forty employees pick aubergines in the greenhouse and sort and pack the fruits using the automated sorting system set up at the front of the company. Here, crates and boxes are loaded into the truck. The seasonal workers come from the local reception centre, which is ten minutes by bike from the company. “Due to corona, it is not easy to get people from Eastern Europe and we have had good experience with these employees for years,” says Ann Heeulens, who is responsible for sorting and administration.

The 40,000 plants on the company are set up on substrate in mid-December, after which the first harvest takes place in mid-February. “The ideal daytime temperature is 26 degrees, but in the summer the temperature can rise to 30 degrees and the humidity is about 85 percent. Visitors sometimes compare our conservatory with a tropical rainforest. Well, aubergines are exotic and like a warm, humid climate,” says Jan Heeulens, who is responsible for crop management.

Growing in greenhouses allows the family to offer local aubergines until much later in the year. The last fruits are picked at the end of November. “The harvest takes place in several pickings, depending on the ripeness and weight, preferably about 300 grams. In the high season, our sorting machine processes up to 35 tons of aubergines per day”, continues Heulens, who indicates that during peak days the company drives to BelOrta up to three times in one day. There the aubergines are bundled with those of other producers and offered for sale according to class division.

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eggplant harvesting
Breeding influences price formation

Although the growers’ family was initially inconvenienced by the closure of the catering industry last year, they do not look back on the corona year with dissatisfaction. “I have the impression that people had a little more time at home to cook and have done something with the aubergine more often,” says Heeulens.

The growers receive the best prices in August and September. “Then there is no competition from Spanish aubergines and there is only Dutch and Belgian supply.” The Spanish competitors grow in foil tunnels where the operating costs are much lower. “Initially, the harvest in Spain only lasted until the end of February, but breeding allowed them to extend this until May or June. That didn’t make it any easier for us.”

Belgian breeding is not standing still either. More than ten years ago, the eggplant collars and leaves were prickly, making picking difficult. In the new varieties the spines have disappeared through natural selection. “At the moment there are also trials to develop varieties that can be grown year-round, so that more production can be run,” concludes Heeulens.

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Cultivation

“The future of indoor and greenhouse vertical farming depends on physics for high quality production”

Affinor Growers has signed a commercialization agreement with Britespan Building Systems to engineer and manufacture new polycarbonate greenhouses co-designed by Affinor and Britespan.

Britespan currently designs, engineers, and manufactures prefabricated buildings in Canada and internationally. Affinor conceived the “Atlantis” greenhouse by adding a polycarbonate material to the outside surface of the Britespan building trusses, dramatically improving certain key performance characteristics of commercial greenhouse systems. The Atlantis Greenhouse optimally accommodates Affinor’s vertical growing technology and processes.

Affinor will be the exclusive worldwide dealer of the Atlantis Greenhouse and Britespan will be the exclusive worldwide supplier of the Atlantis Greenhouse Structure for a term of ten years, with automatic 2-year renewals thereafter.

Affinor and Britespan have also agreed to work together to manufacture the first full-scale demonstration greenhouse to be built adjacent to Affinor’s current lease location on Page Road in Abbotsford.

CEO Nick Brusatore commented: “The future of indoor and greenhouse vertical farming depends largely on physics for high quality production. The Atlantis Greenhouse design accommodates the environmental requirements for automated, vertical farming production, to prepare us for radical climate changes and the various environments we face globally. I expect that the Atlantis Greenhouse will be very competitive and environmentally superior.”

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Cultivation

More than 1.1 million tons of greenhouse vegetables have been harvested in Russia since the beginning of the year

The collection of vegetables and green crops in winter greenhouses in Russia amounted to 1.134 million tons since the beginning of the year, the press service of the Ministry of Agriculture of the Russian Federation reported on November 5.

In the harvested crop, the share of greenhouse cucumbers is 651 thousand tons, and of tomatoes – 458.6 thousand tons. For the same period in 2020, the collection of vegetables in greenhouses amounted to 1.094 million tons, which is 3.6% less than this year.
The most developed production of greenhouse products in Lipetsk, Moscow, Volgograd, Kaluga, Novosibirsk regions, Krasnodar and Stavropol Territories, in the republics of Karachay-Cherkessia, Tatarstan and Bashkiria, they are among the top ten regions-leaders in the industry.
The development of the sub-industry is facilitated by measures of state support, first of all, preferential lending. For farmers who grow vegetables in greenhouses using supplementary lighting technology, there is also an opportunity to receive subsidies within the framework of the state program for the development of agriculture.
For the regions of the Far East, from 2022, compensation is provided for 20% of capital costs for the construction and modernization of greenhouse complexes.
The Ministry of Agriculture expects to maintain positive dynamics at the end of 2021. The forecast for the harvest of greenhouse vegetables is more than 1.4 million tons.
Recall that the cultivation of vegetables in winter greenhouses received a significant impetus for development within the framework of the import substitution program after the introduction of sanctions by Western countries against Russia in 2014 due to the annexation of Crimea.

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Cultivation

In 2023, the second stage of the complex of berry greenhouses will start operating in the Moscow region (RF)

The construction of the second stage of a complex of tunnel greenhouses for the production of berries with an area of ​​90 hectares in the Naro-Fominsk urban district of the Moscow region (RF) will be completed in 2023.

 

This was announced by the Minister of Agriculture and Food of the Moscow Region: “In the Naro-Fominsk urban district of the region, film tunnels with a drip irrigation system have been installed for growing fresh berries in greenhouses. On the site of the first stage with an area of ​​50 hectares this year the first harvest of berries – strawberries, blackberries and raspberries – was harvested. Work is underway on the construction of the second stage of tunnel greenhouses with an area of ​​90 hectares, which is planned to be completed in 2023 ”.

See also: New Year’s Eve without the smell of tangerines – Russia bans the import of tangerines from Turkey during the high season!

At the moment, the site has been fully prepared, it is equipped with roads, communications, a warehouse for storage and utility rooms.

 

Greenfields Agro LLC is implementing an investment project for the placement of tunnel greenhouses for growing berries on 148 hectares of land. The project is planned to be implemented in 3 stages. All crops are planned to be grown in tunnels using a substrate, writes the Ministry of Agriculture of the Russian Federation.

When growing berries, a bio-plant protection system is used, the berries grown in these greenhouses comply with the organic production standard. Completion of all stages of the investment project will allow Greenfields Agro to increase the gross production of berries to 2 thousand tons.

According to the minister, the total investment will amount to 1 billion rubles. The project will create more than 175 permanent and 600 seasonal jobs.

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