Contributing to the region’s self-sufficiency in vegetable production

Successful first season for high-tech greenhouse in Russia
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Contributing to the region’s self-sufficiency in vegetable production

Agro-Invest’s new 20 ha greenhouse, located in the Kaluga region of Russia, has successfully completed its first growing season. This is the first stage in a project which will ultimately comprise a total of 100 hectares of greenhouse on 238 hectares of land. The Kaluga region is a special economic zone, located around 300 km from Moscow. The local government is committed to improving the diversification of the region’s economy with the cultivation of tomatoes, cucumbers and leafy vegetables. This greenhouse complex will make a tangible contribution to the region’s goal of becoming self-sufficient in the production of vegetables in the longer term.

Mr. Evgeniy Gorlach joined Agro-Invest in July 2014 to coordinate the greenhouse construction project in the Kaluga region. At first there was nothing but an empty field. Now, less than 18 months later, the company has completed its first growing season and started the second season of cucumbers and tomatoes in the new greenhouse complex, which was built in record time: just one construction season.
The greenhouse comprises 10 ha for the production of tomatoes (four varieties: one beef tomato variety, one truss tomato variety and two varieties of cherry tomatoes), 8 ha of cucumbers and a 2 ha propagation area for young plants and seedlings, plus a packing area/irrigation room and an energy building.

Specific expertise

Headquartered in Moscow, Agro-Invest operates numerous farms in Russia and its business activities include land, crops, livestock farming, equipment, technology and logistics. In his role as Technical Director, Gorlach was tasked with coordinating the project together with Dutch company Dalsem – a company specialised in the development and realisation of complete high-tech greenhouse projects – and the Russian sub-contractors.
The first point of contact for him and everyone else on the project site was Dalsem’s Maurits Zomer as Project Supervisor. “He virtually moved to Russia to work on the project – I think he spent just three weeks back in the Netherlands during the whole year,” recalls the Technical Director. “Although I’d worked on many similar projects in the past, I had no specific experience in greenhouse construction. We benefited tremendously from the expertise of Zomer and his colleagues in terms of greenhouse building and quality control of sub-contractors.”

Complete solution

In addition to the greenhouse framework, the Dutch high-tech specialist provided Agro-Invest with a complete solution for the greenhouse facility, including all machinery and equipment for the installation of the cold storage and the loading and discharge section. The growing area is fully equipped with a heating/climate control system, high-pressure fogging, roof sprinkler system, substrate irrigation, substrate cultivation, CO2 dosing, overhead (1,000W) and intermediate (250W) lights and screens. The propagation areas are equipped with aluminium rolling benches and ebb and flood irrigation.
Power is generated by four Rolls Royce Gensets of 9,285 MW each, two of which are equipped with selective catalytic reactors for the production of CO2. Additionally there are four hot-water boilers with a capacity of 11.6 MW each. The water management system also includes rainwater collection, reuse of drainage water and purification of well water.

Tight coordination

“One of our biggest challenges on this project was to complete everything on time,” comments Gorlach. “We had a very tight schedule so we worked in parallel with the project institute, which meant we made a start on the construction work for greenhouse as soon as we obtained the drawings from Dalsem. This created quite a stressful situation because we ran into various problems, such as due to the soil and a lake which meant that we had to recalculate the foundations as we went along. Later on in the project, we were particularly under pressure to get the pipework for heating finished and the water circulation system in place so that the pipes wouldn’t freeze when the first snow arrived – which is usually late November – so work started on the boiler room before all the sandwich panels were finished. We wasted no time; for example, the small irrigation room was finished on a Monday, and the tomato seeds were planted in the cubes on Tuesday – the very next day,” he recalls.
“And we even conducted ‘real-life testing’. We were testing the systems when seeds were already on the table.” This tight coordination was the key to fast completion of the project, which took less than eight months for the construction part. “No one else in Russia has ever achieved that so quickly,” states Gorlach. “It’s thanks to such terrific collaboration between all of us, including our sub-contractors, that the preparation and building work ran relatively smoothly and was completed in time for the growing season as planned. I’m also grateful for the tremendous help we received from the people at our sister companies within the holding.”

Multiple language options

The climate management system plays an important role in the control of all processes in the facility. “From an efficiency perspective, it’s important for us that everything can be managed in one, single system,” says the Technical Director. Based on the flexibility, reliability and user-friendliness of the system, the project group made a conscious decision for the iSii climate computer from Hoogendoorn, an international developer and supplier of automated climate management, water management, energy management and data management solutions for horticultural businesses.
“The system controls literally everything in our greenhouse: climate, irrigation, CO2, ventilation windows, screening and energy consumption. Everything is connected to Hoogendoorn, without it, nothing will work.” he adds. All the settings of the new climate computer are flexibly configurable. Furthermore, thanks to the multiple language options, the Dutch crop advisor and the Russian managers can log into the system and adjust the settings in their own respective language.

First-season results

“We received a lot of help with the program settings as well as local training for our employees to help them select the right parameters. The contact was very intensive,” continues Gorlach. The system went live at the end of November 2014 so that the first plants could be irrigated. “Because the system is so comprehensive, the software is very complex so there were a few teething troubles. But we were helped remotely from the Netherlands, and if necessary we received on-site support. In one case, we needed a spare part and a specialist from Dalsem flew in to Moscow and delivered it to our greenhouse on the very same day. You can’t ask for better, quicker and more flexible service than that.”
Despite it being such a whirlwind project, Agro-Invest can look back on the first season with satisfaction. “Apart from the teething troubles, we had no major problems during our first year. A manager from Hoogendoorn recently visited us to answer all our practical questions based on the first-season results and to help us to further optimise the precise settings, so we’re now ready to achieve maximum results in our second season,” he concludes.

Summary

Agro-Invest’s new, high-tech 20 ha greenhouse in the Kaluga region of Russia was constructed in record time thanks to tight project management and excellent collaboration between all members of the project team. The climate management system controls everything in the greenhouse, from irrigation and CO2 to ventilation, screening and energy consumption. Following on from a successful first growing season of tomatoes and cucumbers, the second season is already underway.

Text: Lynn Radford

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