His grandfather started the family business, and almost a decade ago, Isidoros Priftis and his brother took over the management of the greenhouse company located nearby Athens, Greece.
Two months ago, fresh young plants went into the greenhouse.
Start clean, stay clean
If it's the start, middle, or the end of the season, the greenhouse Isidoros Priftis grows in always looks neat. "It is important for us not to leave plant material inside the greenhouse, as that is the perfect breeding ground for pests and pathogens to thrive", says the grower. "The cliché ‘’start clean, stay clean’’ is factual. Keeping the greenhouse clean is a step closer to not spraying. On top of that, we love working in a clean environment."
The facility is a 2000m2 multi-span hydroponic greenhouse, where they grow tomato crops for 11 months. In addition, they do short tomato crops and cucumber growing in 1500m2 low tunnels.
The company was started in the 1940s by his grandfather. His father and uncle took over in the late 1970s, and in 1998, they built the first greenhouse, where they grew tomatoes.
"In the early 2000s, my father transitioned to hydroponic growing, mainly because of fusarium- and nematodes-related issues", he recalls. "At the same time, he expanded the greenhouses, but unfortunately, the first seasons were not good until they learned how to reach sustainable production numbers."
End of the season, 2021
In 2013, Isidoros and his brother took over the management after working there as labor workers - and it wasn't an easy start at all. "We started with a lot of problems and low production, so we began doubting advice from certain experts or consultants with whom we had the bad luck to partner. We began experimenting, readjusting, and fixing things, like varieties, rootstocks, substrate type and volume, fertilizer brands, desired temp and RH%, planting density and setup, irrigation, nutrient solution recipes, nutrient ratios, defoliation strategies, EC and WC levels, therefore increasing production, quality, and price."
"This season, we do a trial with beef three headers, in low tunnels without shading. A different approach to our single header setup regarding plant energy balance and planting density. We will stick to our de-leafing strategy though, meaning that two leaves will be removed next week", Isidoros shares.
Nowadays, challenges are completely different. "There are plant energy issues that come from lack of growing tools, like heating, cooling, screens and other issues, like uniformity, that come along with an old, low-tech greenhouse", Isidoros says.
"We deliver to the central market of Athens and to some local grocery shops who pick up directly from us on the day of harvest. At the same time, we also do sales ourselves directly at our hometown’s local market. So, the rising energy costs are not a big issue regarding the transportation of our products: we are located in the suburbs of Athens, and everything is close to us. However, those energy costs have a direct impact on the electricity which we use for cooling. It also affects fertilizers costs, but we watch the trends and stock up when prices are low or begin to increase. It sure is an issue, even if we don’t use heating in the greenhouse." Also, the labor costs and shortages are rising, which is why they downscaled and work without workers as a family business. "We watch the trends, we stock up when prices are low or begin to increase." Isidoros constantly stays on top of the developments in the horticultural market and technology and recalls several developments of great importance to the company. "Biological control of pest and diseases", for example. "Certain hardware and software for monitoring, decision making, gaining insight and forecasts about the crop condition and development. '
Despite that, the current global situation remains a challenging one. "Of course, we constantly improve our processes to reduce the production cost, but If costs are so high that we can’t sustain them, we'd have to further increase the price. Yet, there might be some more opportunities this season, as market gaps and price fluctuations will be created, considering that a lot of greenhouses did not get planted or got planted later."
It's also one of the reasons why they decided to focus on tomatoes. "We mainly produce beef tomatoes, then cucumbers and zucchini, also outdoor-grown broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, and other seasonal products. From now on, we will focus on tomatoes."
IPM is of vital importance to the company.
Quality, texture, and flavor
The rationale behind that choice lies in the increasing demand for quality tomatoes. "Our consumers want to experience the texture, taste, and flavor of a real tomato. There is no compromise on that, and we have consistently delivered it since day 1. You just can’t fool the consumer. I remember some years ago when, at some point mid-season, we significantly dropped the EC in the slab, and then we got negative feedback about quality."
With that in mind, the company leverages techniques and practical knowledge to answer the market's demands. "There are opportunities for those who think outside of the box, who are very specific in what they want to introduce in a certain market, and who are very efficient in producing it", Isidoros says. "I think that there are no more opportunities for people who focus solely on kg/m2. Consumers won’t eat kg/m2, they will eat quality and are willing to pay for it. This is how we get a higher price as a producer.