The Italian farm Larbat

Above-ground Piedmontese blueberries exported to Ireland, United Kingdom and Netherlands

The Italian company Larbat was created in 2014 as a result of decades of experience of those who worked in the horticultural sector. It was founded as a more experimental and innovative branch of an already historic family business, De Santis Massimiliano, specialized in the cultivation of small fruits.

The production extends on a one-hectare area, for the above-ground cultivation of Duke blueberries and Vivara strawberries. An area of 0.38 hectares is dedicated to the cultivation of Arguta Nergi kiwis. In addition, Duke blueberries are also grown in the open field on an area of 5.7 hectares.

Blueberries in substrate (Photo provided by Larbat)

"Our business philosophy prioritizes values that are often misused, but which find a concrete application in our reality. It's about sustainability, quality and pure food. Due to frost, in 2021 the above-ground cultivation of blueberries was about 4 tons, with plants still young, and 50 tons in the open ground. In a normal situation, with mature plants, we have about 10 tons of substrate-grown blueberries and 75 tons cultivated in open field," said Massimiliano De Santis, owner of the company. 

"We export to Ireland, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, and orders can be placed between 15 June and 15 July. Consumption trends are difficult for us to understand. However, we have observed a constant and slight increase in the domestic demand."

Blueberries in substrate (Photo provided by Larbat)

With regard to climate, a problem of recent years has been the excessive rainfall during the flowering and harvesting period, which has led to problems with pollination and the possible risk of rot and mold. This problem has already been prevented through specific cultivation techniques. In addition, the gradual increase in temperature during the summer is likely to cause increasing pressure on the plants and jeopardize the stability and continuity of the crop.

The Asian fruit fly, Drosophila suzuki, on the other hand, is a problem that has in part been curbed over the years, thanks to the development of specific products and cultivation and cleaning techniques rapidly applied. "We only see these flies when the harvest is already almost complete," pointed out De Santis.

Blueberries in substrate (Photo provided by Larbat)

Packaging of blueberries                                                                The main packaging is the plastic tray in different sizes, of usually 125 and 150 grams. "Sometimes the fruits are packed directly into the cardboard box, and then the customer has to pack them individually," said De Santis.  

The company is firmly committed to going plastic-free, at least in terms of direct sales, with the creation of an eco-sustainable product line. "In the retail sector, this seems rather unpopular, also because of the bureaucratic aspects, such as accreditations, certifications and hygiene regulations at a European scale, and because of the much higher costs."

Blueberries in substrate (Photo provided by Larbat)

Competitors                                                                                        The most competitive markets faced by Larbat are Spain and Poland, because these countries operate on the markets more or less at the same time.

"Spain is ahead of us, often with large batches of lower quality than the Italian ones, but with a very competitive price. Poland, on the other hand, offers a crop of similar quality to ours, but with prices that are in any case significantly lower. This is the result of an internal policy that keeps production costs under control, both in terms of labor costs and ordinary business management. The problem arises when the supply calendar is reduced causing overlaps." 

Leaders in the province of Cuneo                                                      "We are particularly proud of the fact that our company had 0.3 above ground hectares in 2017 and 0.8 above ground hectares in 2018.  We were among the first, in the province of Cuneo and in region Piedmont, to implement blueberry plantings above ground, placing ourselves as a role model for other companies.”

"We have faced with difficulties related to the novelty of the cultivation technique and the very little knowledge about it, thanks to an excellent technical collaboration. Numerous improvements have been made since the first installation, in choosing substrate, in identifying the nursery, and in the techniques and formulas for irrigation. All this has led to what we had imagined from the beginning, that is a high standard in the quality of production." 

Blueberries in substrate (Photo provided by Larbat)

The advantages of growing above ground                                      So far, according to De Santis, the benefits have been many. "First of all, for the plant’s health and the production of its fruit. Secondly, for the well-being of the plant itself. Because the plant is not in contact with the soil and the amount of soil in which it resides is limited, many pathogens do not occur and there are few, if any, problems regarding the shelf life of the fruit. This is combined with the rapidity of production of the plants."

Labor and Brexit, threats and solutions                                          The problems associated with labor inherently include direct and indirect costs, bureaucratic complications and poor availability. "Blueberry harvesting takes place over a short period, ranging from 2 to 4 weeks, and therefore does not provide continuity of employment to seasonal workers. They, in turn, prefer to be employed elsewhere. The continuous improvements made to our two companies and the investments made over time have enabled us to optimize and reduce time and costs. First and foremost, transportation costs, since we export mainly abroad." 

"To date, the Brexit is still an unknown threat. Undoubtedly, it will create difficulties related to customs clearance. And blueberries are perishable goods."

Blueberries in substrate (Photo provided by Larbat)

The next steps for the future                                                          One of the main goals is to obtain certifications for blueberries grown in open fields (GlobalGAP, Grasp, Albert Heijn and Tesco Nurture) and that Larbat already has for strawberries and blueberries in substrate. In the latter case, Larbat also plans to add the Zero Residue certification. "Together we are developing a line of processed products, both for the domestic and foreign markets, that adheres to very rigorous standards regarding self production to ensure chain control, quality, authenticity and sustainability."

For more information:
Azienda agricola Larbat / Az. Agr. De Santis Massimiliano
Via Tetti Sagrin, 10
12020 Tarantasca (CN)
+39 338 9411849

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