Horticulture degree students from Writtle University College enjoyed a trip to Almeria, Spain, to learn about the production of various fruits and vegetables with a range of visits to key crop production sites and invaluable insights from industry experts.
The trip, which was organised by WUC’s Henry Matthews (Senior Lecturer in Agriculture) and Dr Chris Bishop (Reader in Postharvest Technology), coincided with the impact of the recent flooding and cold weather in Southern Europe. Spain's south-eastern region has suffered from torrential rain and flash-flooding, with its heaviest rainfall in 30 years. This particular region of Spain supplies 80% of Europe's fresh produce, but the recent weather impact means only a small proportion of those crops are now usable.
The University of Almeria, with which WUC has worked with for many years, helped to arrange tours to a number of modern and cutting-edge producers, processors and pack-houses, including leading organisations such as Primaflor, Vicasol, Herbex and Biosabor.
Much of the produce from Almeria is exported overseas, with the UK being one of the leading destinations. Students were able to enjoy seeing crops grown, which ranged from papaya to specialist herbs like electric daisy, as well as the traditional and more commonly known tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and peppers.
The state-of-the-art machinery on show provided students with a taste of what the industry has to offer and how horticulture and technology work together to enhance the production process. This included open air hydroponics and six hectares of greenhouse in baby leaf production, which is run by three people plus a number of robots collaboratively to compost production prior to the next crop.
Henry Matthew said: “This was a unique opportunity for students to experience and see first-hand the issues surrounding the production, processing, logistics and marketing of a wide range of fruit and vegetables along the value chain.
“An area such as Almeria with its low rainfall and poor quality soil requires growers to assess and develop sustainable techniques which provide some important learning points for future entrants into the industry. The recent adverse weather conditions further emphasised the issues of sustainable production related to continuity of supply and the students had a first-hand opportunity to study these.”
There were also a number of lively discussions during the visit on the impact of the recent bad weather in Spain, and its effect on vegetable production, as well as on Brexit, water usage and labour availability.