Speaking is Tomás Benavente of Pura Hoja, the largest grower of hydroponic lettuce in Chile: “The time of harvesting must be carefully planned, the product must not be harvested too late. Temperature control is also vital for shelf life. Depending on the crop, the entire cold chain ideally takes place in a room with a temperature between 2-5° C.”
The thin and narrow shape of the land makes distribution a major complication for hydroponic products. By refrigerating their produce, they can keep the lettuce as fresh as possible before it hits supermarket shelves.
Pura Hoja was founded in 2010. Over the past ten years, the company has grown to become the largest grower of hydroponic lettuce in Chile. They are currently growing lettuce on their NFT system, while also doing trials with herbs and baby vegetables. According to Tomás, the company is technologically capable of growing any green leafy vegetable in their greenhouse. He believes there is a great opportunity for the horticultural sector to become more efficient through the use of technology, but the market must also appreciate these products.
Tomás: “Growing a healthy crop all year round is a major challenge. Technologies that regulate the climate, disinfection and disinfection, fertilization and crop management are extremely important. With these techniques we can control all climatic conditions in the area. .”
Since this technology is not easy to manage and also expensive, the market has to appreciate the added value of the hydroponic products. And that is why the lettuce must be of impeccable quality when it reaches the consumer. The Pura Hoja lettuce is sold on the national market, mainly through the retail channels. “The time of harvesting has to be carefully planned, because the lettuce should not be too old. Then temperature control is crucial.”
For extra shelf life, Pura Hoja has been working with a vacuum cooler for two years now. This cooler, supplied by the Dutch company WeberCooling, helps them keep the lettuce as fresh as possible before it hits supermarket shelves.
Sylvia van Uden of Weber Cooling: “By lowering the pressure in the vacuum chamber, you force (a fraction of) the product’s own moisture to evaporate. This evaporation costs energy, which is extracted from the product in the form of a temperature reduction.” The WeberCooling team is also very active in the American vertical farming market and in Latin America with their technology. Both hydro growers and vertical farmers have opted for the systems because it extends the shelf life of the products. The same goes for Pura Hoja.
Tomás: “The vacuum cooler helps us to lower the temperature very quickly after harvesting, which directly affects the shelf life of the product. After harvesting, we cool the products for at least 20 minutes. This process allows us to extend the shelf life by at least 2-6 days and according to some figures even up to 10 days.This way we deliver healthy lettuce with maximum freshness to our consumers.”
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Valparaiso / Chile