Grupo Alimentario Citrus (GAC), an integrated supplier of salads and other products for retailer Mercadona, is now fully involved in the hydroponic cultivation of vegetables. This system (which instead of soil uses mineral solutions in reusable water) is already being used on a large scale by the company chaired by JoaquĆ­n Ballester Martinavarro in its facilities in Montserrat, where it has an R&D centre which has required an investment totalling 1.3 million Euro.

The fruit and vegetable company, which owns the companies Verdifresh and Alnut, (manufacturer of 150 products, with business worth 240 million Euro, six plants, 2,200 workers and 5,000 hectares of agricultural land) has set up a greenhouse with capacity for 10 million plants and is already capable of reaching a production of 10,000 kilos per week; that is, about 10 pallets per week. The Universities of Wageningen, in the Netherlands, and Valladolid have both participated in the design of the greenhouse.

The Valencian trader has started trials with baby lettuce (shoots) of the varieties red Batavia, green Batavia and Lollo rosso. The system consumes up to 60% less water than an open ground crop and maximizes the use of fertilizers, as it provides the exact amount needed by the plant without polluting the soil. In the greenhouse run by the agronomic innovation centre (CIAM), 2,000 kilos of baby lettuce leaves are produced every week. These are then mostly shipped to the Verdifresh plant in the municipality of Riba-roja, where they are processed for the preparation of ready salads.

One of the most innovative projects being carried out by the CIAM is the system for the hydroponic cultivation of leaf crops, which features mechanisms that make it possible for practically 100% of the water to be reused, and this without any soil contamination. The project's execution will allow for the viability of this new cultivation method to be assessed, in view of its possible use for commercial purposes.

Current trials with vegetables focus on varieties of broccoli, mustard and radish and cabbage shoots. To reduce costs, the goal is to market the products without cutting or processing, with a container that facilitates consumption and a substrate to maintain the moisture and freshness of the vegetable.