The whole of India has been under lockdown since March 24th and that is rigorously enforced, but the government has made an exception for the construction of a high-tech greenhouse horticulture project for grower Simply Fresh. The construction team of about 200 people was given an exemption from the government. The growers themselves also deal with the lockdown: with a new partnership they have enabled home delivery of fresh produce in Mumbai.
“Fortunately, the internet speed is working exceedingly well over there,” says Jos Duijvesteijn with Voshol Heat and Electrical Engineering, the company that has managed the step-by-step completion of a high-tech water system and has directed this from behind a computer screen. During phase 1, more than 8 hectares of greenhouses will appear in the southern tip of India. The growers grower a wide range of vegetables, herbs and medicinal crops and are now building a new greenhouse after a multi-million private equity investment.
Everything for good water
And not just any greenhouse, but one with a special roof system that can be fully opened and closed. “In India you have very heavy rainy seasons, so the roof really has to be able to close completely. After that, the roof can also fully open again, which is important, if you know how warm it can get. It is actually always at least 25 degrees Celsius and currently between 35 and 40 degrees Celsius.”
Water is very important in such a warm climate, so a very large reservoir has been dug next to the greenhouses to collect rainwater from the tropical showers for use in drier periods. Three-quarters of the project involves a modern humidification and irrigation system, Jos explains.
“In total, 25 water units for all separate departments are installed and commissioned. The water requirement is high and in particular a lot of value is attached to water quality. It is also therefore special that some of the most modern MD-UV disinfectants from Priva will be installed and even osmosis equipment will be used for water purification.
Completion in phases
The propagation greenhouse, about 0.9 hectare in size, has now been put into service at the beginning of May. "This brings a lot of pressure with it, because now that the propagation of lettuce crops has started, the first production greenhouse must be ready for cultivation in a month," Jos realizes.
“Apart from corona we have had quite a few setbacks. For example, we had only just started when October became so wet that the project was stopped for six weeks due to flooding. That had never happened in October, normally a dry month.”
Now during the corona crisis, completion in phases can continue, albeit less quickly than usual. “When you’re on location you’re faster, but everyone is still happy that everything is continuing. A substantial advantage is that we, already before the first construction activity, took plenty of time to discuss everything in detail with the local teams and everything was put on drawings and engineered as well.
As a result, it is now more easy to control the installation process and commissioning remotely, although it is of course easier to monitor whether a valve or tap is not working properly anywhere on location rather than on a screen. It does help that the locals are very eager to learn and they, thanks to the extensive contact, also pick up everything increasingly more easily.”
Also the growers themselve are dealing with changed circumstances due to the Corona virus. Simply Fresh has entered into a strategic alliance with Agrify Organics to enable home delivery of fresh produce in Mumbai. This initiative of home delivery has been planned to help people during this lockdown and paves a path of convenience, today and for the future. "The tie-up will help in the supply of fresh, nutritious, and immunity-boosting produce to people during the lockdown and afterward", they say.
"We see this as an important extension of our services, and we hope to bring our products to more and more people. This strategic partnership is part of a growing list of initiatives put in place to ensure that Simply Fresh continues to deliver excellence in service, during this pandemic, and thereafter.”
Although Voshol is also familiar with heating technology and the installation of a lighting system, this is not applicable for this project. “The light intensity of the sun is more than high enough, so lighting is not an issue. More likely there is still a need for a bit of cooling and screens, so heating is also not required. It is a very vigorous climate as long as there is a good moisture balance.”
For the time being, Jos reckons that his involvement will be limited to remote work. "By the end of July we will check whether a visit to the location is possible, but based on common sense."
If phase 1 is completed this fall according to plan, it is expected that phase 2 will follow shortly thereafter. “We are already carefully counting on that phase. At least a doubling is possible on the entire acreage.”
And if it’s up to Jos and Voshol, also other comparable projects will follow in the future. “This is going to be a great eye-catcher anyway, and with that you might get a spin-off effect if everything goes well. In any case, we are gaining a lot of experience with this project, our first in India. Although, as it turns out now in these challenging circumstances, it also worked out well and everything is running smoothly on schedule.”