“Previously, we used up to 50,000 m3 of water per hectare per year. Now, with container cultivation, we’ve reduced this to 1,500 m3 annually. This change has led to improved fruit quality, higher crop density, and healthier plants with better root systems. Nelson Antunes from Berry Smart highlights this success story of growing blueberries on Coco Pith.”
Berry Smart now supplies blueberries to buyers throughout Europe from their 8-hectare blueberry nursery, a journey that began in 2004 with just 4 hectares. Nelson, speaking about their expansion, mentioned, “In 2012, we planted 65 hectares, all in soil. Our products reach Holland, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland – spanning across Europe.” Given the diverse markets, maintaining high fruit quality and extended shelf life is crucial. This commitment to excellence propels Nelson to continually enhance their cultivation methods. Delving into the decision to grow in containers over soil, he notes, “We observed that it was initially more costly, and the right varieties had to be selected. Both proved true: the upfront costs are higher, but the returns are swift.”
HortiDaily highlights that the most direct improvement in cultivation is the reduction in water usage. The article states, “We do not have much water here, so we have to protect the water sources available and use as little water as possible. Growing in containers is a significant step in doing so: our water usage has reduced drastically. Additionally, we experience fewer weeds, and we can cultivate at a higher density, leading to increased production from the same acreage.”
Switching to 100% coco pith from peat has not only led to significant water savings due to lower container leakage, thanks to the water-holding capacity of coco coir, but it has also improved cleanliness by eliminating mud at the container bottoms. This change has resulted in healthier root conditions.
In emphasizing the importance of quality, Nelson shares that after trying various suppliers, the team has been working with Dutch Plantin for many years. He explains, “When we buy 5 kg from Dutch Plantin, it gives us between 55 and 60 liters, whereas we only had 40 to 45 liters when buying from other suppliers. This is a substantial difference, especially since the price of the products doesn’t matter much. In the end, this product is much cheaper since the other suppliers provided 20 to 25% less volume.”
Facing challenges with high temperatures and increased insect pressure, Nelson notes the ongoing difficulty in pest control, particularly with their high-density cultivation. Despite the persistent heat, he remains optimistic, stating, “Fortunately, diseases can be treated better when growing in containers.”
Growing in containers has its challenges, especially in windy Portugal, where plants are more prone to tipping over compared to soil cultivation. However, Nelson emphasizes that the advantages far surpass this drawback: “Thanks to the improved growing conditions, the fruits grown in containers are larger than those in soil.”