"Sooner or later, everyone will have to make the switch in Almeria", says Spanish organic grower Francisco Gonzalez. Together with his family, Gonzalez is running several greenhouses operations with a total acreage of 2 hectare. Currently Gonzalez is growing organic blocky peppers in a greenhouse of 1 hectare in Balerma, El Ejido. "For us there were several reasons to start growing organic", said Gonzalez. "Firstly it is part of our philosophy; we are aware of the fact that farming can't go this way. We changed our mentality and want to harvest a cleaner and honest product, responsibly grown. Next to this we are hoping to receive a better price for our products and eventually achieve a higher rendement."

According to Gonzalez, the price he receives for his organic produce is a little bit higher then conventional grown and it is also more stable. "Unlike conventional produce, the prices do not go down that fast when their is too much product on the market, so we enjoy a stable price. On the other hand, we have a higher cost price. The organic fertilizers are expensive and we have to put more labor hours in to the crop." As an example, Gonzalez gives the fertilization process with animal manure. "At the end of each season we recycle the old crop and plough this in our soil. We also ad animal manure in order to get a stable and biodiverse soil."
When the Gonzalez family wanted to start to grow organic in their greenhouses, it was not as easy as they hoped. "In Spain, the authorities are very strict when it comes to certification. They take a lot of monsters form the soil, and it took three years before we achieved the certification."

As an organic grower, Gonzalez is not allowed to use chemical fertilzers or spray pesticides against pests. "Aphids are a large problem for all of the organic growers in Almeria", says Fernando Castilla, comercial director of BioBest Spain. Castilla visits the Gonzalez farm on a weekly basis and supports Gonzalez and his family by tackling pests with biological solutions. The biological systems are well known amongst the growers in Almeria, but for the organic growers a little bit more attention is needed. Simply because they can not make any corrections by spraying when a situation is getting out of hand. Castilla added that sometimes additional parisitoids are wanted. "We have natural enemies to fight aphids but when the temperature inside the greenhouse rises, the regular parasitoids sometimes are having hard times. Then we have to introduce different kind of insects like Aphidius colemani. For the other common problems like whitefly and thrips, Orius and Swirskii will do the job."

Even tough Gonzalez has to put more effort into his crop then a conventional grower, he is satisfied with the results. Despite the higher financial input his family has decided to start growing in another greenhouse. "This year we will grow organic on all of our two hectares. We wouldn't have opted for this if it would make us poorer."

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