Belgium: Growing under lights bolsters year-round strawberries at Hoogstraten
Belgian fresh produce company Hoogstraten expects a slight increase in its strawberry production this year as new technologies for winter production take root.
Sales supervisor Raf Van Rooy tells Fresh Fruit Portal the company has not suffered the same level of cold weather it experienced last winter, and it's possible the poor weather in Spain could lead to better pricing for the Belgian-grown fruit.
"Our season starts at the beginning of March and April. That’s the glasshouse season so everything is heated in that period," he says
"We start up in greenhouses, then we have plastic tunnels, we have table tops under plastic, and then again there are the greenhouses in the summer and also in the winter. We also have the open field in the summer, so we have all different crops and systems to continue growing year-round."
He says the group produced 30,000 metric tons (MT) of strawberries last year, and this could rise to 32,000-33,000MT in 2017.
"We are increasing in the production under lights – we have our soft varieties with a good taste, and we will have the ability now to have strawberries 12 months a year," he says.
"Of course our winter production is quite low at the moment but that will increase in the following years, and we see the supermarkets are interested in having our types of strawberries year-round. That’s really quite a positive evolution for us."
Chairman Dirk van den Plas adds co-generation electricity has become the norm for Hoogstraten in its tomato production, and its use is increasing in strawberries.
"If you have an engine, let's compare it with an engine of a car, if you drive the car and you feel the engine, it's hot," he says.
"We do the same. When it’s turning it’s becoming hot, and the heat we are using to heat up the greenhouse. But we also use the engine to produce electricity, so at the same moment we produce heat for the greenhouse and electricity we put on the grid," he says, adding it can also be used for artificial lights.
Van Rooy says while other berries may be experiencing higher growth rates, it is worth noting strawberry consumption is still on the rise.
"I think the future is looking good for all the berries we have right now," he says.
"We have an important inner market, we have Scandinavia which is a very important region for us, and we have some in the U.K. We have Spain in summer, and Italy from September to November," he says, adding France is also a key market.
Hoogstraten will also be hosting the International Strawberry Congress this year from Sept. 6-7 in Antwerp.