Travel report: Delphy greenhouse vegetable consultants visit Almería

"Almería a formidable competitor in fruit vegetable cultivation"

After a few years of stagnation, both the acreage and the export in Almeria started growing again in recent years. Land prices and prices of greenhouses are also on the rise. The region is known to consist one of the largest greenhouse concentrations in the world and supplies a major part of Europe's fruits and vegetables. 

Reason enough for the Delphy team to pay a visit to the area. On November 19 and 20, the greenhouse vegetable guys went to Almería to get an impression of contemporary horticulture in southern Spain. The team was shown around by a biologist from COEXPHAL, an umbrella association for horticultural organizations and share their impressions with us. 

While the average company size is still around 2 ha in Almeria, it's clear that this will go up in coming years. Water is the biggest limitation for expansion, and water access needs to be established before construction can start. Land prices are around 18-22 euros per m2, while existing greenhouses go for around € 45 per m2.

Companies in this region are much more professional than 10-15 years ago. The greenhouses are surrounded by mesh and entrances have an airlock to keep diseases and pests outside.

Organic crop protection is actually the standard, for pests such as thrips and white flies. Most greenhouses are still of the traditional type with poles, mesh and plastic. For the winter many greenhouses are equipped with a kind of roof structure within a second foil screen. This serves mainly to keep the crop dry from rain and condensation water. In most cases, growers use traditional arena substrate.

Bemisia and Tuta
On the first day the Delphy team visited growers from the Acrena cooperative. Here the consultants saw a traditional cucumber crop, where they had just started harvesting. "It was a good crop with excellent cucumbers."

In the second greenhouse they visited, tomatoes were grown on stone wool. "For tomatoes, Bemisia is their main pest problem, followed by Tuta. They use Isonet T confusion pheromones against Tuta. Parasitic wasps (Necremus) are also present. They occur naturally in the area and are not used. Nesidiocorus is used against Nemisia (and Tuta), however. Sometimes the population becomes too large at the start of cultivation, which is then chemically corrected. Nesidiocorus doesn't pose a threat further down the line during cultivation." 

In the bell pepper greenhouse they visited, they saw a lot of ripe fruit hanging, up to five per stem. "The fruits were of excellent quality. Trips are a common problem for bell peppers, along with green shield bugs and fruit flies." 

Tall winter cultivation
In general there is a tendency to have fewer spring harvests and to keep winter crops for as long as possible. Especially for bell peppers this can lead to more competition on the European market during the spring months.

New crops
In the afternoon the Estación Experimental Cajamar testing facility was visited. This research facility was set up by the Cajamar bank that also funds the research. In addition to researching cultivation methods, greenhouse types and foils, they are also looking into the potential of new crops such as papaya, dragon fruit, passion fruit and even algae cultivation.

Organic crop protection
On day 2 they went to the organic company Biosabor. This company covers 300 ha, of which 90 ha are multi-tunneling greenhouses. The location they visited comprised 24 ha of modern multi-tunneling greenhouses. These greenhouses were heated with pipe heating and have a computer-controlled climate control. Natural gas powers the heating. CO2 is also dosed.

They grow tomatoes, cucumbers and papaya at this location, along with bell peppers and string beans. The company has a very professional and neat appearance. In the young cucumber crop, they used biological control agents with banker plants and food crops for the biological control agents.

"The packaging hall gave a good impression of the capacities of Biosabor on the European organic market: very impressive!" 

Strong competition
The Delphy consultants concluded that Spain, and Almeria in particular, is a formidable competitor in the production of high-quality fruit vegetables, grown with the same IPM methods as in the Benelux.

The Dutch growing season is therefore becoming shorter and shorter. The Spanish organic fruit vegetable segment has overtaken the Netherlands in terms of acreage and professionalism. The greenhouse construction has improved, but Spanish growers suffer more from crop loss due to extreme weather.

For Dutch growers it means there is opportunity for them by providing vegetables all year round. Increasing the acreage of lighting in the Netherlands for greenhouse vegetables would be a logical step.

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