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"In the past, many growers would shied away from a switch to organics due to lower levels of production, today that is a thing of the past"

"Why did you start a transition campaign?" Aldo and Mark of The Conscious Farmer (TCF), an independent consultancy in organic greenhouse horticulture that was founded in 2018 and now operates worldwide, say: "We demonstrate that things can be done differently by growing a clean crop, for a healthy future, for people and the environment. Today, we seem to have the wind behind us, also as more and more consumers and retailers start demanding clean products."

More than 200 hectares, Aldo continues: "We are regularly asked to support in the conversion of conventional crops to 100% organic or 100% pesticide free. With a well-thought-out step-by-step plan, we guide growers who wish to go without chemistry, including everything that comes with it. In practice, our approach achieves high levels of quality and productivity, and our methods in biological crop protection cost, on average, 50% less than usual. Since 2018, we have been helping organic and conventional growers worldwide with our transition campaign. We are now covering a total of more than 200 hectares of greenhouses, and there are regularly new growers who join the transition."

Liquid organic fertilizers Together, the TCF consultants talk enthusiastically about their integrated approach and a convincing business case for investing in organic cultivation that is no longer inferior to a conventional approach. "Our integrated approach includes all aspects of a modern organic greenhouse: biological controls above and below ground, organic fertilization, our climate and water strategy, and soil and substrate quality."

A relatively new spearhead is that the consultants can also recommend liquid organic fertilizers. "In collaboration with a number of suppliers, we are now able for the first time to offer a complete liquid fertilizer recipe – for the A and B tanks – with highly readily available NPK fertilizers without the ballast salts, sodium, chlorine, and sulfate. So far, this has been a missing piece of the puzzle in organic substrate cultivation."

At one of their growers, the TCF consultants expect a significant increase in the production in peppers as well as tomatoes and cucumbers. "When you see the return on the investment, there is little discussion about whether our client will do it. The investments are quickly returned. Where in the past growers shied away from a switch to organic due to lower levels of quality and production, today that is a thing of the past."

Preventing fungal infections, Aldo continues: "Planning, prevention, strong foresight, and an eye for every detail is characteristic of our approach, this is partly owed to our decades of experience. Organic cultivation is not difficult, but it is challenging. You need a completely different approach. Many growers find this change difficult. In conventional pepper cultivation, for example, there are significant problems with Fusarium, some growers have to clear the entire greenhouse due to this fungal infection. However, Fusarium and Pythium are good to control biologically with a strong focus on soil life, oxygen, water quality, and temperature. If you keep an eye on those four aspects, you really control the fungal spores."

Mark adds: "If there is no active soil life present in the substrate or soil before planting, Fusarium and Pythium are the first to be present. Sufficient oxygen in the irrigation water and soil substrate is essential. You should always keep the water temperature below 25 degrees Celsius and prevent cold water shocks. Many growers complain that the plants seemingly go flat out of nowhere from an infection. But the infection occurred weeks before you can notice. That's why prevention is so important!"

Hundred percent organic
"Many growers start with the transition to pesticide-free, often under pressure from regulations and market forces, and sometimes because they made that choice themselves," the consultants note. "Pesticide-free is not where our guidance stops. We aim for 100% organic, not only crop protection but also fertilization. That is why we are so happy with the liquid fertilizers, with which it is also possible to build and maintain beneficial soil life in your substrate. As a result, you get stronger plants. Crop protection becomes easier, and you can reach production levels that are no longer inferior to conventional cultivation. Activating soil life through biologically active compost extracts improves natural crop protection and nutrient absorption through natural chelates. If you have the soil life in order, a lot of work will be done for you in the substrate. Another nice anecdote: we have seen the most beautiful and complete soil biome so far in a coco slab."

The consultants conclude the interview. "Our last strength is our independence. As independent trainers and consultants, we are employed by the grower and look for the highest effectiveness at manageable costs. As mentioned, we do biological crop protection on average for 50% less than what it usually costs. Our growers find these types of figures particularly pleasant."

For more information:
TCF Consultancy
Tel.: +49 (0) 5632 966 7590
Email: [email protected]

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