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Professionalization in Polish horticulture

Getting a glimpse of Polish growers Mularski and Citronex

Scaling up plays an important part in the Polish horticultural sector. Investments in mechanization, but also in infrastructure, generates growth in the horticultural sector. The team of Horti-Consult observed that after their informative trip to Poland. Yesterday, we published a general impression; today they tell us more about their visit to two of the largest greenhouse vegetable companies in the country: Mularski and Citronex.

Mularski is growing
Mularski is a family enterprise with a total acreage of 46 ha, having grown steadily during the last 10 to 15 years. Quite a lot of money has been available to invest in companies in Poland during the past decade. While the company has made use of that opportunity, it did consciously opt for a gradual expansion. This way, money made could be put back into the company again, leading to rather high equity capital. Because it's a family enterprise, they went for clear expansions, without too many external financial burdens.

They grow in 3 locations across the country: near Warsaw, Katowice and Gorzow. The main activities are tomato and cucumber on substrate, radish, and plant propagation. The latter division is growing within the company. The company has 6 ha under lights at its disposal. The energy is supplied by coal boilers, power for the lights is procured. CO2 is applied by means of pure CO2. Of note is the high degree of mechanization in the company. A lot had been invested in various harvesting and sorting machines, but also in automatic radish bunching and harvesting machines, for instance.

All in all, 550 people work in the company. One of the company's problems is obtaining sufficient low level employees. In recent years, the number of Ukrainians and Vietnamese in the company has increased. The company is also investing in housing for foreign workers. A shed was turned into a residential building for this purpose. The hourly wage for low level foreigners is between 2.50 and 3.50 euros. The higher educated employees have a wage that's roughly the same as Dutch wages.

In terms of cultivation, tomato is the main crop. The company has the exclusive right for Poland to the Sunstream and the Brioso. These are sold in Poland, often in small packages. Currently a new packaging machine is being installed with a clearly higher capacity than the current line. There was also a block of 12 ha of Merlice, intended for the German market. Productions of 54 kg are achieved, which is above average for the Polish situation. Next year, around 12 ha specialties will be grown. Pepino was a problem that reared its head now and then. Also, in summer, blossom end rot is a problem that needs to be reckoned with, due to higher temperatures. The pink tomatoes are quite sensitive to this.

There is 6 ha of illumination, where 3 rounds of cucumber are grown. One round of mid-size cucumbers, followed by 2 rounds with hi-power. Sales of the cucumber were 100% destined for Poland. Mildew is a problem in these crops, the mosaic virus is virtually inexistent.

One of the cultivation companies was specialized in radish for the domestic market. The radish is marketed both in bunches and in a type of conical bag. 8 rounds of radish are grown a year (one round more than in the Netherlands, according to the grower).

The newest division of the family enterprise is propagation. 7 million blocks of warm plants are shipped each year (tomato, cucumber, etc.). There is also a division for open field plants. Here, 260 million plants are produced (brassica, celery, broccoli etc.) in a 2 ha climate-controlled hall (at a cost of 50 euros per m2). This hall, with a rather flat roof, can be fully opened by opening a screen cloth in the roof. The hall also has gable screens, as well as an irrigation system and hot air heaters. So it's possible to keep the crops frost-free, but in sunny weather the screen can be opened so the temperature doesn't rise too high. In addition to irrigation, there are also ventilators, enabling dehumidification in addition to misting.

This is a company with a completely different background. The company was originally state-owned, before being taken over by a group of investors. The company grew thanks to trade in citrus, bananas and pineapples. The company also has a supermarket chain and gas stations. The greenhouse horticulture division comprises two companies. The one visited by Horti-Consult has 40 hectares, with the possibility to expand by another 4 ha. After this formerly state-owned company was taken over, the old greenhouses were demolished and replaced by a new facility, partly under lights. To the north, there is another location of 10 ha. The latter has a lot of room for expansion; the plan is to build another 85 hectares here in phases.

The company grows tomatoes and cucumbers. In tomatoes, there are the Angelle, Belido, Bambeno, Merlice and Volantis varieties. The company is made up of 8 hectare blocks. In cucumber, the variety is Paktom, a 180 gram cucumber.

The company is located close to a power plant, where the heat and energy (for the lighting) is procured. The heat is relatively cheaper than energy, so the lamps are mostly used for the light, not so much to provide heat. The water supply occurs comes from their own well, which is so big that it also supplies a neighboring village with water.

The challenge for this company is mainly in responding to the market. To this end, a 3 hectare warehouse is being built with advanced mechanization lines for sorting and packaging. Major investments have been made. This company also complained of difficulty getting employees, especially greenhouse workers.

Horti-Consult International
"We got a good impression of Poland and Polish horticulture," the Horti-Consult International team members sum up. "Scaling up is also a big thing in Poland, and investments in things like mechanization and infrastructure will also continue to cause growth in the country. The level of cultivation will continue to go up, there are still possibilities for production increase. Energy, mainly from coal, is abundant, and there's no shortage of good water either. A problem seems to be labor, There are already signs of insufficient low-level people, but people educated in cultivation techniques are also wanted to reach the next level. Poland will also face lower price levels of tomatoes," they conclude. "And finally, we would like to thank the visited companies for their hospitality, and the people in particular."

For more information:
Gilbert Heijens
Horti-Consult International
[email protected]

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