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Polish tomato industry thrives, looks back on a difficult season

Within Polish horticulture the tomato has always been a very important crop. For a long time they were grown in the ground and in tunnels, but in the 90's tomato cultivation became a more professional business. Crop numbers increased as did the range, but the beef tomato remains the same.

During the 70's there were two types of businesses in Poland, on one side, small private companies from a couple of hundred to a few thousand, and on the other, large state owned enterprises with over 30 acres. A one point the total area covered by tomato crop was around 2,500 acres and was dominated by beef tomatoes. "In the mid 90's modern cultivation techniques were introduced," said Pawel Strauchmann, tomato crop specialist for Rijk Zwaan in Poland. "Greenhouses were of a better standard, Rockwool was discovered and the number of independent professional firms increased rapidly. In a short time state enterprises disappeared from the map."

Different climate
With Polish tomato cultivation reaching optimum capability, with the help of technical knowledge from The Netherlands and Belgium, Pawel insists there is no copying. "Poland is dominated by a continental climate. This means that from December to February there can be heavy snowfalls and extremely low temperatures, as much as -30°C, but with limited isolation and solar radiation it can be between 100 and 150 joules during the day. Summer can bring high temperatures and low humidity; typically under 20%. It is not so strange that the cultivation methods and the period in which they are grown are so different to The Netherlands, just like the varieties grown, but here, the beef tomato is still the favourite."



The pink tomato emerges
High tech tomato cultivation is used over 1,100 acres, 80% of which grows beef tomatoes. The average weight of fruit is between 150 to 250 grams and these are sold loose in boxes of 6kg. "In recent years we have seen emergence of a pink variety," explained Pawel. "This year, this type has been cultivated in over 10% of the total area and more and more growers are excited by this variety for a number of reasons. Not only does this type attract prices twice as high as the standard, they are also very popular with Russian consumers which ensures that export is rapidly increasing." Along with beef tomatoes 70 hectares of vine tomatoes are also grown. The remaining area consists of varieties such as cherry, cocktail and plum tomatoes. "Poland produces around 450 tonnes of tomato per year, of which 25% is exported mainly to Eastern Europe and Russia."
 
Difficult season
Most Polish tomato growers start planting between mid December and January. They most commonly graft a cutting to a topped plant with a stem density of 2,5 per m2. In the summer they keep an extra stem and usually see a density of 3 to 3.2 stems per m2. Due to the poor insulation of the greenhouses and increasing heating costs, growing stops in late October and early November. On average growers produce 52 to 55 kilo per m2 and can reach 60 kilos with beef tomatoes. "Last season was pretty difficult," says Pawel. "Until April we had to deal with winter conditions; low lights levels and low temperatures. This resulted in lower yields and the harvest was delayed by 10 to 14 days. Growers estimated that the yield was 2 to 3 pounds below last season, and prices were also 10 to 15% lower."

Source: Seeds & Sharing
Rijk Zwaan
www.rijkzwaan.nl

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