The arrival of the first UK-grown cucumbers each year is a well-celebrated event these days. Until recent investment over the last few years the sector in the UK faced uncertain times, with overall planting in the UK in decline and imports on the increase for several years in a row. Across the UK, it is estimated that there are now just over 100ha of cucumber glasshouses in commercial production, according to Defra.
But according to Thanet Earth, in 2018 there is an estimated 10% increase in the number of cucumbers grown in the UK, as a result of a new glasshouse at the company’s Kent-based site. It is the first glasshouse in the UK growing cucumbers to be equipped with sodium lights to provide extra light and warmth through winter months and with diffuse glass for better distribution of light. Harvesting in the 6.1ha glasshouse started at the beginning of February.
There are now two cucumber glasshouses at Thanet Earth with over 12ha of growing area in total. One of its growers, Arjan de Gier is using hire wire growing systems that have resulted in ‘considerably’ higher yields than some conventional systems. It is intensive but sustainable production. Mr de Gier says: “Since we began planning our business here in Thanet almost ten years ago, we’ve aspired to have two greenhouses in production for cucumbers. I’m pleased we’ve achieved this goal, developing our reputation for innovation and investment in technology too.”
One of the country’s other biggest suppliers and growers of cucumbers is Abbey View Produce. Its Commercial Director, Luke Hibberd reports good progress. “In general, last season was a good season. Lower retail values and raised health awareness are driving an increase in consumption of glasshouse-grown salads. There were some residual cucumber virus issues which carried over from 2016 but this was mainly cleared up through good husbandry and resistant varieties,” he tells The Commercial Greenhouse Grower. As far as the production process is concerned, Mr Hibberd says some growers are changing their growing cycles. “There has been movement in cucumber crop cycles with a greater number of growers switching from three to two crops in order to avoid higher energy costs at the start of the season. Some trials of high wire growing have continued and some growers are reviewing their options of renewable energy sources. During 2018 we are seeing LED lighting trials on peppers and cucumbers. The net worth of these projects awaits to be seen. Greater benefits are also being seen through slight modernisation of growing techniques as the Lea Valley takes a hybrid tradition and ‘New Generation Growing’ approach to crop management.”
He also thinks hire-wire growing is likely to become more significant in the future. “I think hire-wire growing is the future of any new build cucumber nurseries as it can produce extra yield and with the correct facilities the extra yield can provide an overall net monetary benefit to the grower. However, if you compare a modern nursery to an established traditional three crop grower, net returns per square meter can be very similar, indicating it is maybe more about the skill of the grower getting the most out of the cost factors and facilities available to them rather than the production methods used.”
Mr Hibberd believes that increased interest in nutrition and health will be one of the trends that will continue and help the sector. “Snacking and convenience are key drivers for consumers, however focus for ‘everyday’ products is still cost and currently the cost of production to snacking varieties is at or above those of conventional which is prohibitive unless an additional benefit such as flavour or nutrition is added,” he says.
Mr Hibberd also thinks technology and innovation will continue to drive the sector forward. “Abbey View is an observer of the European-funded Bioboost project and as such, are monitoring many technological advances. However currently, there are very few providing stand alone benefits that warrant the investment and a combined approach is proving too costly. I believe we are on the verge of the next advancements through the use of the technologies which are currently being developed.”
Read more in the next issue of The Commercial Greenhouse Grower, subscribe online now at https://greenhousegrower.co.uk/buy-a-subscription/