Supporting the UK Cucumber Industry
In 2002, the CGA recognised that if the UK cucumber industry was to survive in the long term, it was vital that it satisfied the increasing demand for uninterrupted supplies of good quality, traceable produce grown using pest and disease management practices that eliminated chemical residues. To do this, the industry first had to establish how to grow all year round crops efficiently, thus maximising production per units of energy and other resources.
This important CGA project was conceived by the membership at the 2001 CGA Technical Conference / AGM, which had the theme “Adapting to Survive”. A feasibility study was then completed, which showed that the venture was technically and economically viable.
The overall objective was to grow year round cucumbers efficiently. Initially, the approach included:
- extending the growing season by using supplementary lights
- saving energy by using retractable thermal screens
- optimising environmental control using state of the art computer programmes
- evaluating the benefits of hanging gutter systems
- improving the management of water / feed input.
The CGA designed the project and the work was overseen by a Project Management Group, appointed by the CGA and consisting of key individuals from the consortium of partners.
THE PROJECT ITSELF
Ten private companies became partners in the project and contributed by providing equipment and expertise. This enabled the glasshouse to be fitted with supplementary lighting units initially capable of providing 10,000lux, retractable thermal screens, raised gutters, an advanced climate control system and all associated fittings and equipment.
The annual running costs of the unit were calculated and adjusted to allow for income from the produce and for on-going contributions from suppliers/partners. The budgets included the cost of scientific assessments to collect and collate data relating to many important aspects of crop production and energy usage. The performance of the unit was compared to the best conventional practice at five commercial nurseries.
The AYR project identified considerable benefits from growing cucumbers by the high wire system under the AYR growing regime and the CGA decided that these benefits should be evaluated independently of supplementary lights. The high wire production project (HDC project code PC273) was therefore a natural progression from the AYR project.
This was the first project of its kind to be organised and managed by a commodity-based grower association and was therefore a very exciting venture for the CGA. It paved the way not only in technological development for the cucumber industry but also in the whole approach to the implementation of new technology in UK.
This project was supported financially by the Horticultural Development Council.