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Portugal: The quest for best strawberry
"We were told that it was impossible to make these strawberries in Portugal. They also told us that a strawberry is very difficult to work with: very sensitive and that we could not deal with the quality needs. Besides, this variety needs very cold temperatures to be sweet, and we don't have cold like that in Portugal." This is how Miguel Silva, the manager of the Portugese company Sabores Púrpura, remembers the moments and advice that preceded the decision to make the best strawberry in the world in Portugal. "We still don't speak Dutch, but now we grow the most desirable strawberries in Europe, here in Portugal."
For some years now, Algarve doesn't only produce oranges. Throughout the south of Portugal, several greenhouses dedicated to the production of small fruits have risen in the last decade, and Sabores Púrpura has followed this trend. The company is dedicated to the production of strawberries during the winter, when they're out of season.
"The option to come to produce in Algarve is related to sustainability issues. Of course, with today's technology, we can produce anything in any part of the world, but sometimes that's a pretty high energy cost. Therefore, when we studied this project, we decided to move the production unit to Algarve, where the region's climate would allow us to achieve more sustainable production, with less energy costs."
"In addition, we are also concerned about other environmental issues such as the use of water resources, which we reduce to the minimum essential for the consumption of plants and ensure that nitrates from fertilization are not put into the soil or the use of phytopharmaceuticals (pesticides or fungicides), opting for more environmentally friendly combat mechanisms," says Miguel Silva, regarding Sabores Púrpura, a company from Coimbra, producing in Algarve.
Sabores Púrpura now grows strawberries in a 1.5 hectare greenhouse. Thanks to the quality and characteristics of their extra-sweet strawberries, they've enjoyed a good reputation in northern Europe. "Our greenhouses are similar to the Dutch glasshouses, only they're covered with plastic instead of glass. Also we produce in table tops, which is not a usual solution in Portugal or Spain. And we do hydroponics, in coco peat substrate growing bags. A peculiar thing is that we don't need to add CO2 to our crop, because in our farm the CO2 levels are usually around 450 ppm. This is because of the natural source of CO2, provided from marine life nearby. Most of the machinery (climate control, irrigation, etc), is imported from the Netherlands. "For instance, we use the Hortimax CX500 fertigation and climate control computer."
With all this technical equipment, extensive know-how and a complete focus on quality, Sabores Púrpura exports 100% of its production to the north of Europe. "We knew that we were able to work the quality that these markets demand, and we already had considerable know-how in small fruits. Making Elsanta in Portugal was a great challenge and it still is, because it is a very sensitive variety and our climate is very capricious. It's very cold and raining in one moment, and very sunny and very hot in the next minute, so we have to make a very tight crop management, and this strawberry does not allow mistakes of any kind," adds the entrepreneur.
The market demand is increasing for this producer. "The reality is that we have developed excellent quality work here, and we have been producing remarkably positive results, as consumer satisfaction tells us. There are customers who are already looking specifically for our strawberries because they are sweeter. At the moment we are producing strawberries with sugars between 10 and 12 degrees brix, which surpasses the expectation for this variety of strawberry", reveals Sofia Ferreira, responsible for the quality of the production unit. "We are very pleased with the results of this campaign, but never satisfied. This is our motto: never satisfied. For the year we will be doing more and better, with the good and bad the experience of more this year has taught us", she adds.
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