The tomato titan- NatureSweet, is the leading grower of premium tomatoes in North America, providing consumers with "Tomatoes Raised Right." In order to guarantee consistent and superior tasting tomatoes on a year-round basis, NatureSweet is continuously looking to the latest innovations and technologies to help ensure the level of quality and flavor that the company is so distinguished for.
Since the company was first founded in 1990, NatureSweet has continued expanding their production of vine ripe tomatoes and is now recognized as the largest greenhouse grower in North America. With an impressive 566-hectare span of sustainable greenhouses, which includes five production sites located in Mexico and another in Arizona, NatureSweet has undoubtedly established itself as the leading supplier of the demanding and ever-growing market throughout North America.
“Here, we don’t do things hastily or take the easy way. We do things the right way and we never shy away from trying something new if it means we will have better results. And it’s because of this philosophy that you can taste the difference in our tomatoes… we do things differently than our competition,” says Manuel Matias, General Manager at NatureSweet's Colima operation.
The NatureSweet team at the Colima site located in the central-western region of Mexico, has faced a long-time battle with the extreme heat and humidity conditions that this particular operation presents. Out of all the different NatureSweet sites throughout North America and Mexico, the Colima facility experiences the greatest degree of difficulty due to the cloudy summers marked by high temperatures of up to 37°C and high humidity levels which can near up to 100%.
Grower Miguel Vega explains, “Growing in these climatic conditions meant that our production cycles were much shorter in relation to the standards of the other sites. Pollination problems, diseases and excessive plant stress resulted in the loss of plants in the early stages of the cultivation cycle, forcing us to have to replant and perform various activities to maintain density and compensate for production.”
The conventional practice of whitewashing was not enough to mitigate the excessive temperature and humidity levels in the greenhouse at the Colima operation. This required the Research Department to begin exploring a series of new technical alternatives ranging from physical modifications to the greenhouse windows to extending the column heights, amongst other costly alternatives.
“After analyzing the preliminary results from testing conducted at our Tuxca site which evaluated the properties of Svensson’s Econet 4045, an insect net with high porosity that allowed for better ventilation, we decided to do the same here and install Econet 4045,” describes Manuel Matias.
In passive greenhouses, there often aren’t many tools available to influence the climate, so you have to rely on natural conditions which expose you to mother nature’s good and bad. After weighing the different technical and economic proposals, NatureSweet opted to go beyond the replacement of conventional insect nets with Svensson's high porosity Econet 4045 insect screen in one block, and decided to perform testing in a second block which utilized Econet 4045 for insect control along with a mobile open structure light-diffusing Harmony shade, in hopes of being able to control the climate to an even greater degree of precision. The concept of improving ventilation by the means of increasing porosity and enhancing solar radiation control also meant that they could avoid the need to whitewash the greenhouse roof.
“Since we have been able to extend the cultivation cycles considerably, we have increased our overall competitiveness towards the standards required by the NatureSweet group”
"Since we have been able to extend the cultivation cycles considerably, we have increased our overall competitiveness towards the standards required by the NatureSweet group. Even though we are still in the process of assimilating the management of the automated screen system, we believe that the return on investment is well within our reach of being a highly cost-effective solution."
Although the results are preliminary in the first two growing cycles, there have been noteworthy improvements in the greenhouse climate. The conditions are now much more favorable both for the plants and for the personnel that work at the Colima site.
Stay tuned for more exciting updates from the trials at NatureSweet.