The largest hydroponic farm in Southern Europe can be found in Tuscany. Launched in 2015 by Luigi Galimberti, Sfera Agricoa grows plants above the ground and pesticide-free, in ecological greenhouses and with the help of bees for pollination.
The farm produces 1 kg of tomatoes or lettuce using only 2 liters of water, compared to 75 liters when cultivating in the fields. Moreover, 90% of these two liters of water consist of rainwater. For the treatment of plants, it relies on biological control by using natural organisms to fight insects and diseases. “We use bees to fertilize the flowers and we release various insects to fight the insects we fear,” explains M. Galimberti. The few plants that would necessitate a chemical treatment are immediately set aside and their production is destroyed.
All of this makes you think about the future of nutrition on the planet. Investors have indeed sensed the opportunity and banks have put on the table the 20 million euros [22.17 million USD] necessary to launch the 13-hectare greenhouse, which employs 230 people and produces all year round.
In the future, the farm plans to double its revenue of 10 million euros [11.1 million USD] this year (after 5 million euros [5.54 million USD] in 2018). There is also hope to expand the production range with cabbage, spinach, zucchini, bell peppers and eggplants.
In recent years, the fame of Italian tomatoes has taken a hit. The image of the industry was changed by the denunciation of the working conditions of thousands of migrants, often from Africa, in the fields of Southern Italy. But there were also pollution scandals in some regions, such as Campania, and the mafia infiltrating the food industry also made the news for a long time. The annual revenue is estimated at 24.5 billion euros [27.15 billion USD], according to a recent report by the farmers’ association Coldiretti.
Sfera Agricola stands on the margins of the system, offering decent working conditions to its employees. Besides, the company relies on three varieties that farmers and distributors have abandoned. “Over the past 50 years, the market has evolved rapidly for reasons related to distribution and trade. The skin of the tomatoes has thickened to make them last longer on the shelves, and the fruits do not fall off anymore when they are ripe,” explains M. Galimberti. At Sfera Agricola, “the plant is protected and we can use older varieties. The skin of our tomatoes is thinner, which means that they must be consumed immediately.”
Sfera Agricola wants to build 500 hectares of hydroponic greenhouses in the next ten years, to become the first actor of the sector in Europe.