U.K.: Greenhouse project ramps up winter tomato production
Thanet Earth's 100-hectare site near Birchington, Kent is making strides towards completion with its sixth greenhouse now complete, dedicated to growing specialty tomatoes year-round.
The new greenhouse holds four different tomato varieties, including the signature Thanet Earth Piccolo variety.
The facility is heated by combined heat and power technology, and equipped with high-pressure sodium (HPS) grow lights which the company describes as “the secret to ensuring year-round production”.
Thanet Earth says it accounts for 15% of the planted area for tomatoes across the country and harvest capabilities across the growing systems means the percentage of U.K. tomatoes grown is now approaching 25%.
The company has planning permission to construct up to seven greenhouses as part of an estimated £135 million (US$176 million) venture which involves several partners.
The U.K.'s largest privately-owned fresh produce supplier, Fresca Group Ltd, originally purchased the site and maintains a 50% stake in the marketing business on site that sells the crops (Thanet Earth Ltd).
The remaining 50% is owned by specialist growers - Kaaij Greenhouses UK Ltd, Rainbow Growers, A&A Growers and Fresca Group Ltd. These companies have purchased their own greenhouse plot and constructed their greenhouse at Thanet Earth. They all pack and market their crops through Thanet Earth Ltd, according to the company’s website.
It’s not just tomatoes at Thanet Earth that now benefit from winter light.
Sodium grow lights were installed in a greenhouse last year, and a switch will be made from tomato to cucumber production from next year. The young plants will be helped through the winter months by supplementary lighting and the system will increase cucumber yield further through higher planting density.
The harvest window will be brought forward with the first cucumbers expected in January 2018.
Thanet Earth managing director Des Kingsley says getting the latest greenhouses operational has been a key part of his business growth strategy as the demand for home-grown product ramps up.
“There’s an enormous uncertainty around the future for imported trade at the moment and it’s widely acknowledged that the U.K. has to improve its self-sufficiency in food production," Kingsley said.
“We’re working as hard as we can to add more top quality home-grown volumes to the market but there’s still a huge gap between the demand for British tomatoes all year round and the available supply volumes."
The fresh produce grown at Thanet Earth is primarily for supply to the U.K. retail sector.