Can we eat UK-grown produce all year round, without environmental trade-offs? 

A farm in Suffolk is utilizing hyper-efficient glasshouse technology to grow tomatoes all year. Could this be a better approach than depending on imports?

Richard Lewis knows his tomatoes. He even has a cherry tomato– the Lewis– called after him.

3 miles north-west of Ipswich, simply beyond the village of Bramford, a neon pink radiance can often be translucented the trees. Its difficult to miss– it appears like a wedding event disco– but the LEDs are actually originating from the UKs first semi-closed glasshouses, run by Sterling Suffolk

Many growers wish to do things much better, so possibly the answer is to encourage the seller that we might do that if they paid us more for it.

” We need to increase our capability for production to prevent air cargo and extended transport runs from overseas,” he says. Of the 500,000 tonnes of tomatoes offered in the UK each year, just 20 per cent are grown here. Spain and Morocco are among the countries that supply the rest.

They look red, but Sterling Suffolks tomatoes are actually quite green. Image: Alexandra Stam.

If the UK is to satisfy its net no commitments, roughly 21 percent of agricultural land in England will need to change function, according to the recent National Food Strategy. The Suffolk glasshouses can grow larger yields in smaller spaces, allowing excess land to be rewilded or utilized for forestry or peatland.

Is this the low-carbon future of edible crop production? Image: Sterling Suffolk.

Nevertheless, standing alone is insufficient. Lewis thinks a joined-up, long-term approach is required..

For its part, Sterling Suffolk pollinates its crops utilizing British bees, and uses predatory pests instead of insecticides to manage insects. The businesss glasshouses are cooled by water sourced from an onsite reservoir. Though gas is utilized to heat up the glasshouses, Lewis is focused on catching and recycling as much of their CO2 emissions as possible– a minimum of 75 percent presently. Tomatoes require CO2 to grow, ripen and maximise their yield. Under such regulated conditions, the glasshouses will produce around 3,000 tonnes of tomatoes a year by 2023– about 20 per cent more than conventional glasshouses– and they do it utilizing 25 percent less energy.

Covering 5.6 ha, these energy-efficient hothouses utilize AI innovation to optimise the growing conditions for tomato plants. That pink radiance is a blend of blue and red additional lighting, developed to increase the crops biomass. An internal hydroponic system feeds the vines, lowering the need for pesticides and fertilisers, and restricting water usage. Could this be the low-carbon future of edible crop production? Lewis, who is handling director at Sterling Suffolk, believes so.

The sector is improving. In the Netherlands, significant tomato manufacturer Duijvestijn utilizes geothermal energy to heat its greenhouses. Thanet Earth, which grows peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes in Kent utilizing combined heat and power generators, sends out excess power back to the grid..

” Most growers wish to do things better,” says Lewis, “so maybe the answer is to convince the merchant that we might do that if they paid us more for it. We have the Tesco Finest range for much better favour, for example, however should we have a Tesco Greenest range?”

” We have actually become utilized to having all types of fruit and veg whenever we want it at rates that are unsustainable,” says Lewis. “but we cant destroy the planet and overlook our responsibilities.”.

We need to comprehend that cheap isnt always best and certainly not finest for the planet.

Covering 5.6 ha, these energy-efficient hothouses utilize AI technology to optimise the growing conditions for tomato plants. Of the 500,000 tonnes of tomatoes offered in the UK each year, only 20 per cent are grown here. Its tough to make a like-for-like comparison between emissions from tomatoes grown with heat in the UK versus those grown outdoors and imported in, Lewis raises some intriguing points about overall ecological footprint. Spanish tomatoes, for example, are grown below plastic tunnels, which need to be changed every four years. “When growing a big vine tomato, we get about 60kg of tomatoes per square metre.

Modification, nevertheless, shines pink on the horizon.

” There is an existing and growing demand for sustainable production in the UK,” states Lewis. Add to that the complex disputes around what makes up a sustainable choice– locally produced but grown under glass, or imported however grown outside?

Although its difficult to make a like-for-like comparison in between emissions from tomatoes grown with heat in the UK versus those grown outdoors and imported in, Lewis raises some fascinating points about overall environmental footprint. Spanish tomatoes, for instance, are grown beneath plastic tunnels, which require to be changed every four years. Where water is limited, growers desalinate it from the Mediterranean, requiring a power plant and more trucks on the roadway.

” We still require to comprehend that cheap isnt always best and definitely not best for the planet,” says Lewis. “When growing a large vine tomato, we get about 60kg of tomatoes per square metre. In Spain, youre looking at about 15kg. It takes a lot of land to get the exact same yield.”.

Main image: Richard Lewis/Sterling Suffolk.

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