Marcel Huibers (Bayer) and grower Paul van Lipzig

"High-wire cucumbers are the future"

"With 180 to 200 cucumbers per m², traditional cultivation techniques seem to have reached their full potential, but high-wire cultivation offers some more room for growth. Now the average is of around 210 pieces, but there are already companies above the 225 mark. There are even a few companies that expect to harvest 260 cucumbers per m² in a few years," says Marcel Huibers, cucumber specialist at Bayer CropScience Vegetable Seeds. 

He has been a strong supporter of high-wire cucumbers for years. The yield difference with traditional cultivation techniques, which is constantly increasing, and the very stable quality of the crops certainly favour high-wire cultivation,', as is his firm belief. Especially in recent years the message appears to be sinking, despite some difficult times for the growers. The acreage of high-wire cucumber crops last year reached 90 hectares, now it stands at around 120 hectares.

Marcel Huibers, cucumber specialist at Bayer

Although according to Huibers many aspects speak in favour of high-wire cucumbers, it is still difficult to convince growers, and that is mainly due to the higher labour requirements of the crop, especially the need for more leaf cutting (see table). Traditional growing techniques roughly take about 0.8 to 1.0 hours per m² and high-wire growing between 1.2 and 1.4 hours per m². At an hourly rate of € 16, this means a labour cost of € 14.40 per m² for traditional cucumbers and € 20.80 per m² for high-wire; a difference of more than € 6.50 per m². These costs can and should be according to Huibers more than compensated by the higher yields and stable quality.

He reckons that with the higher production (210 vs. 180 Class I cucumbers per m²), high-wire cucumbers will generate between € 6 and € 7 more per m². In other words: the higher yield compensates for the higher labour costs. A better quality (more export quality cucumbers and less class II), reduces costs an additional € 1 to € 2 per m². Another advantage is the more stable production, which also results in smoother and more stable labour. "Companies may therefore have the chance to work with a solid, well-integrated team, and this favours performance," says the cucumber specialist. Another plus is that the plant cost per m² on high wire cultivation is about a dollar lower than with traditional cultivation, although on the other hand, the two instead of three crops per season also entails a higher risk for the grower.

Breaking instead of cutting 
"All in all, the future prospects for high-wire cucumbers are certainly good, even though growers remain sceptical about the higher labour costs," summarises Huibers. A major way to bring labour costs down is through breeding, and according to Huibers, some progress has already been made at this point. For example, the latest varieties (eg Hi Jack), have smaller, more compact leaves and shorter internodes. This not only results in more plants per m², but also reduces labour costs by an average 5 to 10% and results in a better quality crop."

"A second route being explored this year takes place during the growing of the second crop, from early July to mid-November, and consists in breaking the leave instead of cutting it. This must then be done in combination with the new anti-Botrytis (and mildew) Luna Privilige agent. The idea behind this is that the use of Luna (for example, between mid-August and late September) keeps the crop free of Botrytis until the very end. According to Huibers, this would save time, corresponding to about half a Euro per m². Although trials have only recently started on two commercial plantations, he expects the risk of Botrytis not to be higher than with conventional cutting. In tests, Luna Privilege showed good results against Botrytis, so hopefully this should contribute to making high-wire cultivation even more interesting for cucumber growers.''

Nunhems' compact high-wire varieties have shorter internodes (left) and smaller, horizontal leaves (right).

Yearly progression with high-wire cultivation
"Conventional production, from my point of view, is pretty much on its last legs. In practice, production goes down rather than up, while high-wire provides a yearly progression," says Paul Lipzig, high-wire cucumber grower at Maasbree. Two years ago, he switched from traditional to high-wire, "and that's been a very good decision," he affirms.

Already in the first months, the results were so good that we immediately made the switch also with the greenhouse crops." At this time, the greenhouse production stands at around 220 to 225 cucumbers per m², "and it could easily have been higher if we hadn't had some virus problems. I expect we should soon surpass the 240 pieces and ultimately 260 pieces per m²," said Van Lipzig. Besides higher production, the grower will also see a significantly better quality and uniformity. The latter would lead to a noticeably better performance in sorting. "All in all, I believe high-wire cucumbers are the future. I dare say that growers who want their business to survive will have to make the switch sooner or later."

Source: Bayer Glastuinbouwkoerier.

For more information:
Bayer CropScience Vegetable Seeds
Marcel Huibers, Sales Specialist Cucumbers
Mobile:06 20396578, E-mail:

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