Security in supply, safely grown produce, better labor conditions, better quality produce, and product when the open field product is out of season. There are tons of reasons why hydroponic cultivation of soft fruit is increasing all over the world. During the International Soft Fruit Conference, challenges in cultivation and in the market were discussed and suppliers showed how they can help growers conquer these. They start to offer more and more solutions for different types of soft fruit to follow the growing high-tech strawberry industry.
If you take a look into the greenhouse of Genson Group, it is hard to imagine high-tech hydroponic cultivation has developed in the last decade. With the LED lights, the irrigation and fertigation system, the climate control, it's a fully integrated system. There are many reasons this industry has developed this fast. Challenges like crop safety, off-season production and labour are pushing the industry.
This trend was noted exactly ten years ago and therefore the International Soft Fruit Conference was organised for the first time in 2010, and this year the tenth edition took place.
Gabriele Roncaletti & Michele Pavano with P-TRE
Over these years, those fields full of strawberries have increasingly been exchanged for covered cultivation or even cultivation in greenhouses with lighting for those with year-round ambitions.
That is why at the fair this year there was again plenty of LED lighting, cultivation gutters, water systems (one of the points where the regulations are becoming increasingly stricter), substrates and also fertilizers and a whole range of products and services of which the photo report certainly gives a good impression.
Prices are high
This year the prices remain high on the European strawberry market. These were noted in the run-up to Christmas. Many of these strawberries are sold in advance and only limited supplies are being traded on the free market. These strawberries are also well priced. Imports from the South now need to pick up. Expectations are good and there is currently a lot of Egyptian produce on the market.
At the beginning of December, the market seemed more challenging with low prices. Prices, however, rose as Christmas approached, since consumers in the Netherlands and Belgium are usually willing to pay more for locally-grown strawberries during the holidays. This benefits Dutch and Belgian growers.
Paul Greenhalgh and Alfred Boot with Herkuplast. Paul Greenhalgh is the UK distributor of Herkuplast.
Good weather, good import expectations
Last year, prices peaked at around €12/kg in the second week of January. Things were no different this year. Prices of €6 or €7/kg for Class A strawberries are not considered impossible at the moment. Now it is a waiting game to see what the market will do. Supplies from the South will increase soon.
Last year, the cold weather in Spain delayed the start of the strawberry supply from there a little. This year, weather conditions were good in that country. Import expectations are, therefore, good too. At The Greenery, they will, for instance, start with imported Sweet & Sunny strawberries on Monday.
What does the lack of cold mean for spring cultivation?
It has, thus far, not been really cold in Spain. That has also been the case in Belgium and the Netherlands. It's bad for winter coat sales, but, if these high temperatures continue, they may be bad for something else too - the Dutch and Belgian farmers' spring strawberry productions. After all, strawberry plants need a bit of cold.
Nick Uithoven on his first Strawberry Day for Oerlemans Plastics flanked by Piet van den Oord.
Highs and lows
Highs and lows characterize the strawberry market. However, it is sometimes said a stable kg price of €4 or €5 might be better for the market. The market instability makes it difficult to make long term predictions. The weather is even more unpredictable than supply and demand. Weather conditions always have a huge effect on the strawberry market.
So much for the short term - but on the whole and looking for the longer term the mood among the growers and sellers at the International Soft Fruit Conference was good.
An increasing number of growers focus on (illuminated) greenhouse cultivation. The high prices are certainly a plus for growers with this equipment, and they can at least cover their higher costs - but most often make a bit on top of that as well.
In addition, other types of soft fruit are expected to follow the development of the strawberry market - although not as rapidly as the strawberry did. Challenges in the blueberry, raspberry and blackberry industry for now are the right light recipe, the exact cultivation system and keeping the plants of a quality to last multiple seasons. In addition there's labour and electricity costs. However, with expanding knowledge, new varieties and more specified solutions for this market it is expected these crops will take off as well.
Peter Zethof with Shakti Cocos