Traditionally, soft fruit is grown in the open field in Germany. In the last fifteen years, however, a movement is seen towards more hydroponic cultivation. Joost van Ruijven also notices that – as a soft fruit specialist with Beekenkamp Verpakkingen, he knows the German market very well.
“We’ve seen that growth from the start,” Joost says. “Now, in 2021, we’re actually still in that process of growth. Currently, soft fruit is still grown more in the open field than on substrates in Germany, so there’s definitely room for even more growth.
Joost van Ruyven, Beekenkamp Verpakkingen.
That more and more growers are switching from the open field, is to be expected – hydroponic cultivation offers plenty of benefits. “Growing in the open field is subject to weather conditions like hail and rain, and it’s easier for pathogens to spread. Also in terms of labor, open-field cultivation is more intensive – you have to get down on your knees to pick the berries. With controlled cultivation, on trays, working at height makes it easier on the pickers. And you can better control the cultivation, for instance when it comes to providing water and nutrients, because you know exactly how much is in a tray.”
From crop to crop, from propagation to cultivation
With Beekenkamp, Joost doesn’t just focus on strawberry cultivation, which is very popular in Germany, but also on raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. And there’s a tray or pot for every crop. “And that’s just the fruit production – we also have pots and trays for propagation. Because modern cultivation goes hand in hand with modern plants, which are often grown hydroponically, in trays.”
That wide range of products is under constant development. One of the current developments is a higher number of cups per square meter – that way, a grower can bring down their cost price with a higher yield.
The 16-hole strawberry tray is 1 meter in length and 20 cm wide. “In the late 1990s, this was one of the first trays to hit the market,” Joost says.
The 18-hole tray has the same size as the one with 16 holes, but because of the design, it has two extra cups.
“That’s because of the jigsaw design – the short ends fit together nicely, like pieces of a puzzle. And because of the taller legs, air circulation underneath the crop is better, and splashing water isn’t a problem anymore.”
This photo, taken at propagator Kraege Beerenpflanzen in Telgte (Germany), shows how Beekenkamp’s mobile tray system works. “The tray is on top of mobile gutters, you can easily slide them on, so you can also go across them with a machine.”
For Beekenkamp, Germany is the main export country, but the developments in soft fruit cultivation aren’t unique to that country. “There’s plenty of growth in Germany, but other countries also offer lots of opportunities. When it comes to soft fruit, we’re looking to make improvements and to work with growers. So if people have any ideas for us there, they’re welcome to contact us.”
For more information:
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