A Suffolk greenhouse the size of 11 football pitches
- Credit: Archant
A company’s multi-million pound investment is about to turn Suffolk into a major producer of vine tomatoes.
In the first stage of a £30m project, at Great Blakenham near Ipswich, Sterling Suffolk Ltd has built a massive Dutch-style glasshouse with the dimensions of an aircraft hangar - or 11 football pitches.
It is on track for the first tomatoes to be planted in December, and for the first cropping to begin from mid February 2019.
The plan is to produce tomato vines by hydroponics - without soil, but perhaps coconut matting (coir), and fed water and nutrients that are carefully controlled.
This giant greenhouse is similar to those seen in parts of Holland and France, and used to produce a range of salad vegetables, fruit and flowers.
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Cliff Matthews, a director of the developers, Sterling Suffolk Ltd, said: “It has been great to start this, seven years ago, and to be here to see it coming to fruition,
“There are some bigger ones in the country of course. This phase one is the size of 11 football pitches.
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“It is the most environmentally efficient glasshouse in the UK. The first of its kind here.
“There are a number in France and Holland.
“Real glass is more efficient for this.
“This is agriculture on a industrial scale. There is an art and science to growing tomatoes and we have a very good expert involved, Richard Lewis, one of the best in the UK.”
Vine tomatoes, with clumps of tomatoes still attached to the vine, would be harvested and supplied to supermarkets and the restaurant trade.
“We aim to produce 50,000 vines per week. It is more about the taste than the quantity.” he added. “These will be top of the range quality.”
The 5.6 hectare building is phase one of a three-phase project, costing around £30m in all, over the next three years.
When complete there will be 17 hectares of production glasshouses, plus office, packaging and production on site.
The first giant 8,3 metre tall house has been constructed since March, despite the bad weather.
Now it will be fitted out with blinds and hydroponics equipment ready for the first planting in December.
It would be very environmentlly friendly, he said, with air ciculation systems and the water for the hydroponics collected from the roof and stored in a reservoir.
The tomatoes would grow in natural light, with a season from March through to October, and one hectare of plants would grow under lights at other times.
The site would employ between 40 and 50 people, he said. “And we will employ more when we get growing and expanding.
“We have spent about half a million pounds in the local environment so far, with more to follow.
“Over the years it is gooing to benefit all of the community,”
The project attracted some local opposition during the planning process.
Mr Matthews added: “Personally I don’t think it looks too bad in the countryside. There are trees and we are goiong to plant more for screening.”
This project will not be the largest in the region, at Wissington in Norfolk British Sugar has an 18 hectatre glasshouse - and products there include medicinal cannabis.