Growers to start using lights in greenhouses through the winter
British tomatoes will be available all year round
British tomatoes will be available all year round after a move to grow them under LED lights in vast greenhouses throughout the winter.
The decision by farmers supplying Asda means British shoppers will be less reliant on imports from Spain, South Africa and Turkey.
The technology effectively removes the weather from the growing process and so puts an end to the traditional seasons.
Waitrose is already sourcing salad leaves grown under LED lights through the winter from UK greenhouses and other retailers are planning to do the same.
The technology is being used by producers at Flavourfresh in Southport, Lancashire, across 31 acres of glasshouses growing tomatoes.
Installed between the vines and coloured bright pink, the LED lighting supplements natural daylight so the crops can be grown all year round.
Changing the ‘recipe’ of the light waves used on the plants, which are grown hydroponically using enriched water rather than soil, delivers the desired flavour.
There is also some evidence from Holland that there are real health benefits from growing tomatoes in this way. Crops receiving extra light from the LEDs contained up to twice as much vitamin C as others.
Production manager at Flavourfresh, Andy Roe, said: ‘I can say with confidence that by using this technology, I could grow a tomato absolutely anywhere – underground, in a Tube carriage, on the moon.
‘The beauty of this technology is that it hands complete control over to the growers, who can monitor levels and adjust accordingly to ensure the best quality products possible are hitting Asda’s shelves.
‘This is the way forward for horticulturalists across the globe.’
LED lights are relatively cheap to run and, consequently, producing crops in this way is economically viable when set against the cost of transport and imports.
The fact that farmers can now produce crops all year round means we are less reliant on farmers overseas. Just last year, British families were hit with the rationing of some fresh salad produce after much of the Mediterranean was hit by bad weather.
The change also means UK shoppers are less vulnerable to currency shifts.
Asda said: ‘This new technology will lead to thousands more tonnes of tomatoes grown in British every year, reducing food miles and ensuring optimum freshness on shelf.’
The supermarket’s technical director, Ian Harrison, said: ‘Beyond the multi-seasonal benefits it offers, this forward-thinking technology means not a single ounce of quality, taste or appearance is diminished in our tomatoes.’
Growing salad leaves under LED lights in greenhouses takes just 35-40 days which compares to up to 112 days outside in a field. Consequently, the yield is almost three times higher over the course of a 12 month period.
Entrepreneurs, food companies and scientists in Britain, Scandinavia and Japan are working on skyscrapers and warehouses that can grow large amounts of fresh produce in the middle of cities.
For example, Birds Eye has investigated commercialising the Verticrop Hydroponic system, which is being used at Paignton Zoo in Devon to produce cheap vegetable crops for its animals.
The tower will be some 54 metres high and grow a vast range of leafy green vegetables, including Asian salad leaves, red Malabar spinach and mustard greens, with the first crops becoming available in 2014.
Experts at the Stockbridge Technology Centre in Selby, north Yorkshire, have also been running trials on growing tomatoes under LED lights in a 1,000 square metre glasshouse for several years.
Publication date: 10/6/2017
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