In Germany, the peak time for tomato cultivation is gradually winding down at Emsland Gemüse. "Pricing-wise, we're catching up with last year. It's a pity, in a way, that we're approaching the season's end; prices have genuinely been on the rise recently," begins managing director Erwin Savenije.
"We're talking about a ten percent plus over last year. I must, however, note that the rising minimum wages in Germany are putting considerable pressure on margins. We're on the right track, but for a healthy market situation, a 30% price increase compared to our fixed costs increase is desirable."
Emsland Gemüse is Emsland Flower's vegetable cultivation company and grows tomatoes on 15 ha. That portfolio includes the Brioso, Rivolo, and Sweeterno varieties and, since last year, the new Rebelski beef tomato. "Brioso cocktail tomatoes lagged a bit regarding demand last year but are back on par. Our newcomer Rebelski is doing very well, even though it's a relatively small product in terms of volume compared to the other varieties," Savenije reports. All these varieties' harvests usually peak between weeks 26 and 38.
Emsland Gemüse has been cultivating lettuce in gutters in a special demo greenhouse since last year.
Emsland Gemüse went completely gas-free last year and now uses two 'Holzkraftwerke' (wood power plants). That is being expanded with a system that converts byproducts into liquid CO2. "That's not yet operational, though, so, for the second consecutive year, we have no CO2 available. Still, this year was fantastic, both yield and quality-wise, and certainly not inferior to previous years. Of our 15ha, we could grow residue-free on 13.5 this season."
Cultivation costs and HR varieties
Ever-rising production costs are a hot topic in the greenhouse horticultural sector. "Overseas growing countries like Spain undeniably have the advantage of lower wages, but longer transport routes and increasing water problems offset that. I'd, thus, like to suggest that, when it comes down to it, our tomatoes' production costs are comparable to many an imported tomato," says Erwin.
"Looking ahead, several parties are already working on sustainable, seasonal diversification, importing overseas tomatoes in the first part of the year and growing them locally in the Netherlands or Germany from mid-April/May onwards. You need less lighting and thus energy, then. I think that's the right way to go."
Emsland Gemüse grows most of its tomatoes in organic substrate in Bato containers.
HR (High Resistant) variety implementation is the company's primary long-term goal. "We, too, are doing cultivation trials with these HR varieties, although we've managed to keep ToBRFV out so far. The shift toward these varieties is a good development, but I've yet to see a variety whose flavor compares to our current varieties, especially the Sweeterno," Erwin explains.
Regarding packaging, retailers still want mainly 350 and 650 grams. In the case of cherry tomatoes, 200g packs are also being used.
Cultivation capacity and portfolio expansion
Earlier, Emsland Gemüse announced it wants to expand its acreage. Construction should start sometime next year. Erwin does not rule out that, in time, other crops besides tomatoes could find a place in their new greenhouse. "We've had a demo greenhouse (nearby) for several years, where we grow lettuce in water for our own use."
"Bedding plants will remain our focus, ideally supplemented by a good summer crop, for example, a combination greenhouse containing tomatoes, bell peppers, and perhaps even cucumbers. In that sense, we're a flexible company that's open to everything," Erwin concludes.