Farm Your Heart Out Abreast of Innovation Via Greenhouse Production

Farm Your Heart Out Abreast of Innovation Via Greenhouse Production

The FINANCIAL -- Without much doubt, Georgian fruits and vegetables are naturally delicious and the country has land soils with high agricultural potential. Strong demand for fresh, healthy fruits is observed locally and globally. And yet, even with the naked eye it is evident that many farmers still do not use available land/resources optimally.

Furthermore, most growers in Georgia only have small areas of land to cultivate and many do not use best practices to select and space their crops to maximize the amount they can grow with their land. Neither do most of them understand how to market their produce effectively. Very few know how to process and package their produce which means they are unable to raise the price they can charge above a certain amount. Lack of knowledge regarding sanitary and quality norms prevails.

According to the President of SIVAL, Bruno Dupont, “at a time when producers are suffering from an overwhelming burden of standards and legislation that are endangering their businesses, innovation is now more essential than ever as a way of finding solutions for the future”. With nearly 600 exhibitors and 22,000 professional visitors annually in Angers, the SIVAL is the only trade show in France to present a comprehensive and impressive offering of equipment and services for all plant productions, including viticulture, horticulture, arboriculture, vegetable crops, seeds, medicinal and aromatic plants, etc. This year, the annual event was held on January 17-19 and yet again, the SIVAL has risen to a challenge to be the showcase of agriculture for the future, and to open new horizons for crop production, Urban farms, Smart Farming, computerized farming, and others. Our representative from Experto attended the renowned tradeshow and in due time, we will be revealing some of the findings to our readers in the coming issues. 

Before zooming in on the Greenhouse production in Georgia, it should be noted that since greenhouses are filled with equipment including heating, cooling, lighting to optimize conditions for plant growth, there is an inevitable difference between the crops grown as seedlings and the greenhouse vegetables. Thus, the interior of a greenhouse exposed to sunlight becomes significantly warmer than the external ambient, protecting its vegetation in cold weather. Given that Georgia has a wide range of climates, from cool and dry to warm and humid, greenhouses can be constructed in any area of the country, but each area has its own challenges and benefits.

To get a sense of where the greenhouse sector in Georgia is heading, we have approached several key players in this field. As stated by the Agricultural Projects’ Management Agency under the Ministry of Agriculture, two of their programs focus on fostering greenhouse production in Georgia: “Preferential Agro Credit” and “Agriculture Modernization, Market access and Resilience (AMMAR)” projects. 

The agency, frequently referred to as APMA, told Experto that within the frameworks of the Preferential Agro Credit, it is possible to get financing for greenhouse installation and/or repair works. In this case the maximum annual interest rate charged by the administering credit institution shall not exceed 15%, out of which 11% shall be financed by APMA. The loan amount can vary from GEL 20,000 to USD 600,000 (or equivalent in GEL) and the loan term equals 84 months. 

As for the AMMAR project, it comprises the co-financing process of individual/smallholder Georgian farmers, processing enterprises and agricultural cooperatives. In order for the project to be eligible, the greenhouse must be in any of the following regions: Shida Kartli, Kakheti, Samegrelo and Autonomous Republic of Ajara. The co-financing provided to a smallholder farmer shall not exceed USD 15,000 equivalent in GEL.  Agricultural-industry cooperatives shall be entitled to USD 15,000 equivalent in GEL per each shareholder, however, the maximum amount shall not exceed USD 150,000 in case the cooperative has more than 10 members. 

Moving on to real life success stories, Planta Greenhouse is one of Georgian Co-Investment Fund’s successful investment projects located in Gardabani municipality, Kvemo Kartli region of Georgia. Planta Greenhouse covers 12 hectares and is the largest greenhouse in Georgia equipped with modern technologies. The project was developed in partnership with the leading European companies in Greenhouse industry, Richel Group and Certhon. 

General Director of Planta, Mr. Shota Japaridze told Experto that “Currently our greenhouse produces several varieties of tomatoes and cucumbers mainly for local market and exporting part of it to the neighboring countries. We produce over 6,000 tons of vegetables annually and maintain the highest yields per m² in Georgia”. To streamline the cost of production, Planta has recently launched the plant nursery where the Planta vegetables are propagated. “This has significantly decreased our production costs” explained Mr. Japaridze. 

Planta Greenhouse is planning to build a refrigerator with the capacity of 100 tons for storing vegetables, “which will give us an opportunity to keep Planta products for a longer period. Thus, we will be able to supply stable export quantities outside the seasons as well”. The General Director revealed to us that “in the long-term, we might expand Planta Greenhouse to 35 hectares and increase the total investment size of the project from USD 22 M to USD 40 M”.

Herbia represents another success story. The company is a grower, packer, and shipper of Global Gap -certified culinary herbs and vegetables with no chemical fertilizers or insecticides. Since commencing production in early 2006, Herbia has quickly become one of Georgia’s leading producers of premium-quality, greenhouse-grown culinary herbs and vegetables and a pioneer in the field of packaged herbs offered to local consumers. It operates some 3 ha of greenhouse and a modern refrigerated warehouse with 2 packing lines in Tskaltubo, Georgia. According to the Director, Mr. Zurab Janelidze, “Herbia provides its customers with reliable, year-round, local supply of produce grown under the highest standards of food safety and environmental sustainability. We went one step further and have established our own distribution line and in the local shops we placed Stand refrigerators”.

Mr. Janelidze further elaborated that Georgia has good climatic conditions “that gives us an opportunity to grow vegetables year-round with unmatched care and commitment to quality. We are looking for obtaining investment to finance inevitable growth and conquer new export markets. According to Herbia, the market in Georgia is not saturated in this field as currently Georgian farmers can satisfy only 10% of Local market demand: “from our standpoint year by year Georgian farmers are doubling their production and this trend shall continue”.

Ms. Natia Khelaia, Deputy CEO of Imereti Greenery stated that their greenhouse is the most modern greenhouse in operation in the Caucasus. Imereti Greenery is a Dutch-Georgian owned enterprise situated in the heart of Imereti. The Greenery brings back the taste of fresh Georgian vegetables, grown with modern Dutch technologies. Ms. Khelaia further elaborated that “it is assembled according to the latest Dutch designs, and includes Philips LED lightening for growing in an efficient and sustainable way throughout the winter”. For example, used irrigation water is collected, filtered by UV, and reused again. “All together it makes the greenhouse very efficient in the use of natural resources and securing high quality fresh vegetables in and for Georgia”, concluded Deputy CEO. Needless to say, the company can offer year-round production.

Ilya Shapira, Founder and CEO of Isragreen stated that, “Besides high quality Israeli products we import from high level manufacturers to Georgia, we also believe in providing pre- and post-delivery consultancy services to our potential and actual clients”. Since the Company’s inception, they have been providing seminars for farmers free of charge for a wide range of mostly common issues for the Georgian market such as grape, strawberry, tomato, cucumber, etc.: “All our lecturers are experienced and Israeli graduated specialists. Our latest seminar has been held in Mtskheta Tianeti municipality where we focused on strawberry related issues. We usually target most common problems of Georgian farmers, including crop protection, fertilization and smart irrigation. Lack of financial and market knowledge among farmers leads them to make wrong decisions. Thus, we help our potential clients to make smart, informative and sustainable decisions. We believe that smart and educated farmer is mostly productive and competitive” concluded Mr. Shapira.

From our end, we can state that spreading knowledge and developing innovative farming approaches to increase productivity will be the key to moving the industry forward to a sustainable state as the population grows. We can keep wondering what the agriculture of tomorrow will be, or we can already start gaining an insight on what role robotics will play in plant production now and in the future. After all, the current platform the world relies on is, in fact, running out of steam, according to Mr. Bruno Dupont, and that has difficulty in providing producers with confidence and visibility. Good luck finding your way out of the labyrinth of food genetics, Georgia!