Hans van Gellecum, Leamington (Canada)

Leading Canadian tomato company on the added value of working with Cultilene

Heritage Farms is a leading Canadian horticulture company: last year, eighteen hectares of glass were realised in one go for the cultivation of snacking tomatoes. Cultilene supplied the diffuse glass and substrate for the location. And with good reason: Operations Director Hans van Gellecum consciously looks for suppliers who offer more than just a product. “Cultilene thinks along with us, and engages actively with us in taking cultivation to the next level.” 

The Leamington region – in southwestern Ontario and a stone’s throw from the US border – is North America’s most important horticultural area. Chip Stockell is one of the leading horticultural entrepreneurs in this region. To complement the two growing locations for organic snacking tomatoes, a new greenhouse horticultural business was set up last year for the regular cultivation of snacking tomatoes. This company, which bears the name Heritage Farms, comprises no fewer than eighteen hectares of ultramodern greenhouses. “We grow snacking tomatoes all year round here, especially the Sweetelle and Duelle varieties,” says Operations Director Hans van Gellecum. “We produce these exclusively for Sunset, an important trading company in this region. Twenty percent of our tomatoes stay in Canada, the rest goes to the United States. From here we can supply the whole of North America, except for the west coast, within a ten to twelve hour drive.”

ALBARINO glass, cubes and slabs from Cultilene
Heritage Farms works closely with Cultilene in various fields. For example, the greenhouse is fully glazed with High Haze ALBARINO glass from Cultilene. “I knew Cultilene from the time I was still working in Dutch horticulture. When we started putting up new buildings last year, they were a logical partner for me,” says Van Gellecum, who is originally from the Netherlands. “Diffuse glass was a must for us because of the climate in this region. Summers are extremely hot while our winters are severe. In the period from May to September the sun’s rays are often too strong and days with over a thousand joules are no exception. To prevent crop damage, you have to scatter the light. That’s why we opted for High Haze ALBARINO glass, which makes the incident light eighty percent diffuse. And by opting for a double AR coating at the same time, we’re still assured of sufficient light in the winter months. The hemispheric light transmission is 95 percent, which means we don’t lose production in winter. In short: the combination of high haze and high light transmission is ideal for us.”

In addition to the ALBARINO glass, Heritage Farms also chose slabs and cubes by Cultilene. “Our grower determines the exact choice of cube, but as far as the slab is concerned we go for Exact Air,” says Van Gellecum. “With this slab, the water content, pH, oxygen and EC can be controlled extremely well. Keeping the EC well under control is very important to us. It so happens that we have quite a bit of blossom-end rot due to large differences in EC between the pouring water and the water in the slab. This leads to a loss of quality. We hope this will soon be a thing of the past. Cultilene’s new CARA MET sensors, which we will soon be deploying, should also contribute to this. These sensors provide real-time insight into the EC, the water content and the temperature in the root zone.”

Close cooperation
Van Gellecum is not only satisfied with Cultilene’s products; he is also particularly pleased with the added value that Cultilene offers. “I have intensive contact with Alessandro Montanarella of Cultilene. He actively supports us in improving the cultivation results. For example, we spar together about how we can optimise the irrigation strategy. Normally, Alessandro comes here three or four times a year, so we can really deal with this issue in depth. Due to COVID-19, this is unfortunately not possible at the moment, so we keep in touch as much as possible online. Actually, Alessandro has become much more than a consultant; I see him as a good friend.”

Montanarella confirms that. “The collaboration with Heritage Farms is going extremely well. That’s partly because Hans is very open-minded. We continuously discuss things with each other and that moves us both and the company along.”

Innovative cultivation strategy
On the advice of Alessandro Montanarella, at the end of last year Van Gellecum visited an Italian greenhouse grower which has an innovative cultivation strategy. “Normally, tomato growers only look at the number of plants per square metre. The Italian grower in question focuses mainly on the amount of green per square metre needed to help a crop through a hot summer. This is also a big challenge for us. Due to the heat, the plants regularly get into a downward spiral during the summer months and we lose kilos of product. Also, the plants become too generative at high temperatures.”

The Operations Director is now trying to prevent this by picking less leaf in the summer and adjusting the number of heads per square metre to suit the season. “At the time of planting we assume 3.75 heads per square metre, in mid-March we wind this up to 5 or 6 heads per square metre, and when the temperature rises further we go up to 7.5 heads per square metre. Previously, we never exceeded 5.3 heads per square metre during the summer months. By focusing on more greenery in the greenhouse, the cooling capacity of the crop will increase and it will make it through the summer better. In my opinion, this is a better strategy than fencing, which hampers evaporation and reduces the cooling effect. This again increases the risk of blossom-end rot.”

Searching for the ‘magic number’
Although the summer is not yet over, Van Gellecum can already see that this strategy is paying off, both literally and figuratively. “Together with Alessandro, I’ll see how we can further optimise this approach. We’re looking for the ‘magic number’ in terms of the number of heads per square metre. In this way, we are really working together to support the success of Heritage Farms. For me, this is where the greatest added value of the cooperation with Cultilene lies; they are much more than just a supplier of glass and substrate.”

Van Gellecum is happy to continue the collaboration with Cultilene. Also on the further expansion of Heritage Farms, which is on course for the future. “We will once again be opting for glass and substrate from Cultilene in the new building. And when it comes to the cultivation strategy, we will undoubtedly continue along the same path.”

Teeltsoort: Tomaat tuinder

Product: Exact Air

Hectare: 28

“Supporting the success of Heritage Farms together”

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