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Shorter days put Swedish cucumber quality at risk

In October, the days rapidly become shorter in Sweden. This means issues with the quality of cucumbers can arise. Cucumber cultivator, Rickard Jönsson’s mood is, however, positive. He is confident in the future. Although the Swedish market is not always the easiest, he does not envy his Dutch counterparts.

Cucumber grower Rickard Jönsson (Frillestad Vaxt) and Peter Horvath (Odlarlaget).

At the edge of the property is a large pile of wood chips. Just outside the greenhouse, in a separate shed, these chips disappear into a huge stove. With this warmth, the greenhouse is heated to a comfortable temperature. Sweden only has a few dozen cucumber growers, and Rickard Jönsson, from Frillestad Vaxt, is one of the largest growers in this Scandinavian country. The wood chips used to feed the stove are a byproduct of the enormous wood industry in Sweden.

The greenhouse is heated by burning wood chips, the left overs of the enormous wood industry.

“The interest in local produce is increasing”, says Rickard. “So, we are looking forward to a rosy future.” The greenhouse has a yield of approx 220 cucumbers per square metre (74kg/sqm). The complex is 38,000 square metres in size and has two crops per year. “I tried doing three crops, but then it is difficult to keep the right balance, and keep the moths away.”

Unfiltered soil water
The season started early this year, in the first weeks of the new year. The demand was, however, lacking. “In the first week of May, it was very sunny, so we had high production yields”, says Rickard, “but, at that time, there was hardly any consumption.” In the first weeks of June, around midsummer night, the demand and production reach their peak. Rickard’s greenhouse cucumbers are brought to market via a producers organisation called Odlarlaget. This is one of the three largest PO’s in Sweden, and the largest cucumber auctioneer in the country.

“We have a clean product. We do not need to filter our soil water, and we use almost no pesticides”, Rickard explains. “We also have a short transport time. Local produce is good for the economy.” There are many Romanians and Lithuanians working in the greenhouse. “We have no problems with personnel.” In October, the pickers go into the greenhouses twice a week, to harvest the crops. Far more cucumbers are picked during peak season. Then, within about 90 minutes from harvesting, the cucumbers are packaged.

Rickard shows a cucumber in his greenhouse.

Less pressure from the banks
“One of the risk factors is that we have less light,” says Rickard. The seasons ends at the end of October/beginning of November, when the days become too short. “With grow lights, you can cultivate crops year-round, but the prices are not good.” In the dark winter months, the local cucumbers fetch a price of EUR 2 per kg. Rickard does not use grow lights. “I don’t see the economic advantage. In the summer months, we have more light than we know what to do with, and the season begins again in the first weeks of the year.”

Although his greenhouse is equipped with Dutch technology, and the Michelle, a Dutch variety, grows in the substrate, Rickard sees a big difference between his business, and those in the Dutch sector. “We have less trouble with the banks”, he says. “We only invest money that we have made. With Dutch growers, it seems like they have an attitude of ‘all-in’.” There is also more competition among Dutch growers. In Sweden, the growers jointly finance a campaign to draw attention to cucumbers. “There are very few growers in the area, and the cooler temperatures mean less diseases”, Rickard says to illustrate the difference.

More information:
Frillestad Vaxt
Rickard Jönsson/Lars Klitte

Peter Horvath
[email protected]
Tel 042 499 01 12
Cell 0707 82 82 10
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