ValeFresco is based in the Vale of Evesham and is a large scale salad supply business for British supermarkets including Waitrose, Tesco, Aldi, Lidl, Asda, M&S, Morrisons, and Sainbury’s, as well as wholesale and ethnic markets. They grow lettuce, rocket, baby leaf, courgettes, cherry tomatoes, pak choi and other oriental vegetables. What started as the amalgamation of two family businesses has expanded to become one of the leading salad growers in the UK, with two farms in the Midlands and a third in Sicily. They are dedicated to increasing quality and productivity and are expert polytunnel growers, with some of the largest and most advanced structures in Europe.
With their high profile supermarket supply contracts they decided that they needed to be forward thinking, pro-active and to start considering the future of their growing operation. With problems in the salad business including microbes and foreign bodies they decided that growing out of the soil would be a wise step forward. At the end of 2015 they engaged Saturn Bioponics to give them a viable solution for growing pak choi hydroponically.
They started by installing a Saturn Grower system into their one of their 220 pak choi poly tunnels in January 2016, taking their crop out of the soil and increasing plant density from 20 to 75 plants per m2.
Fully functioning in a very short space of time, the farm’s workers immediately found the system easy and intuitive to use.
ValeFresco tripled their Pak Choi yield from 3kg in the soil to 9.2kg/m2 in the Saturn Grower system on their very first crop cycle harvested in March 2016. They have grown continuously since then as there is no downtime between crops, thanks to internal sterilisation and rapid harvesting and replanting. This means that in combination with the faster growth rate via Saturn Bioponics’ nutrient solution, over the course of 12 months they gain an additional 2.5 crop cycles.
With the ongoing support package from Saturn Bioponics, each cycle has improved in both yield and quality across multiple different varieties, reaching a productivity level of approximately 11.5 kg / m2 per crop cycle. This is a gain of 8.5 kg per m2 – a nearly 4x yield increase.
In addition, they have grown a number of lettuce varieties, including green multileaf at 13.25 kg/m2 as opposed to 2.7kg/ m2 in the field, with no soil splash and fewer microbes.
The quality of the crop and the clean and reliable nature of its production has been so impressive that it has resulted in ValeFresco winning very significant new contracts and receiving national media coverage.
Their costs of production have also reduced, meaning very high profitability and fast payback on the capital investment into the Saturn Grower. Consequently, ValeFresco are rolling out the Saturn Grower technology in their 11 hectares of Pak Choi tunnels, starting in winter 2016/17.