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open field meets protected production:

US (FL): Lipman installs 2 ha. of Cravo greenhouse at Naples Farm

Lipman, the largest field tomato grower in North America, installed new hybrid greenhouses in their Naples farming facility. The Cravo retractable greenhouses allow for the benefits of natural conditions combined with the protection of a greenhouse, and while the first tomatoes grown in the new greenhouses are currently being harvested, going forward, Lipman hopes to get the best of open-field and greenhouse growing.

Lipman is currently growing an heirloom tomato, a grape tomato and a proprietary variety in their new five-acre facility. The first crop grown in the new greenhouses were planted in September, and harvesting has begun for their heirloom varieties. Gerry Odell, chief farming officer for Lipman, said that they'll monitor the new operation and make adjustments as needed to get the best possible product.

“We're experimenting with several systems to see what will be most advantageous to grow in the houses,” he said. “We're trying to find the best of both worlds that's sustainable economically and allows us to produce the best product.” While a hybrid retractable greenhouse allows Lipman to grow tomatoes that are protected from the elements while retaining the taste of open-field tomato, Odell noted that they're also trying to hone their operation so they can grow the best tomatoes at optimal cost levels.

“Our challenge is to develop a system of protected production, given Florida's conditions, that will allow us to produce a competitive product at a profitable level,” he said. “All domestic greenhouse producers have the challenge that Mexico's protected production operations have labor costs that are much lower, so we're trying to develop a hybrid system that's economically feasible, that allows us to utilize natural weather and that has a better cost-per-unit.”

The new operation gives Lipman the ability to grow tomatoes that are great-looking as well as great-tasting. Now, the challenge is to refine the process so they can grow the most cost-effective produce.

“It's be the best of both growing methods – tomatoes have the cosmetic beauty of greenhouse-grown fruit with the firmness and taste of the open field,” said Odell. “It's just a question of creating enough product in a small area to get a good return on investment.”

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