From seedlings to frozen products

– Igor, tell us about the creation of the farm?

– We registered our business on May 5, 2017 under the name FE “Eco Berry”. Today the farm covers an area of over 300 hectares, of which 130 hectares are already planted with various berries. The company specializes in growing remontant and summer raspberries, black currants, red currants, garden strawberries, blackberries, honeysuckle and blueberries. Part of the land is certified, so we have the opportunity to grow organic berries in accordance with the
requirements of the Organic Standart certificate.

– How did you choose the seedlings?

– We have responsibly approached the choice of seed plots. The first thing we did was monitor them in Ukraine. First of all, we paid attention to the certification of the company, as seed plots must be legal and must pay royalties. No less important was the fact that they had some experience in the market.

In the end, we decided to rely on the solid reputation and many years of experience of several seed plots, including Rosetta Agro, which works with leading seed plots in the Netherlands. We also cooperate with the Ukrainian seed plot “FruTek”. To make a choice, we visited the farms where these companies sold their seedlings. This allowed us to see how the planting material behaves after planting in the second or even fifth year. The main requirements we set for varieties are high taste qualities, resistance to diseases and, of course, yield.

For blueberries, we chose seedlings of innovative varieties from “Rosetta Agro” selection Fall Creek, namely: middle-early variety Clockwork®; medium varieties Top Shelf® and Valor®; medium-late varieties Cargo® and Liberty (MSU selection). And among the varieties of very late fruiting, we preferred Last Call® and Aurora (MSU selection).

For garden strawberries, we chose the early varieties of Rumba and Clary, middle-early Aprica, mid-late Letizia and Polka. As for raspberries, we planted remontant varieties Joan Jay, Sugana and Rafzaku (Himbo-Top). Varieties of summer fruiting raspberries: Glen Ample, Glen Fine and Octavia. For blackberries we have the early dessert variety Karaka Black and the variety of Serbian selection Čačanska Bestrna, intended for industrial processing.

We currently collect all berries by hand, both for the fresh market and for the needs of our own freezing. However, the selected varieties and planting schemes will allow, if necessary, in the future to partially switch to mechanized harvesting of berries for processing.

– How were the plots established?

– Plantations of raspberries, blackberries and blueberries were planted with seedlings with a closed root system. This material is slightly more expensive than seedlings with open roots, more complicated in logistics, but provides almost one hundred percent survival in the field.

Blueberries are planted in Rohatyn district, where soil acidity is high. This culture requires optimal soil acidity at the level of pH 4.5–5.5, because the microorganisms required for its development are able to maintain viability only under such conditions. If the acidity is higher, the crop will feel bad and will not bear fruit. For blueberries, we prepared a special peat mixture, in which we plant the plants.

The main part of the fields is located in Horodenka district of Ivano-Frankivsk region, almost on the border with Ternopil region.

Here are ideal conditions for growing traditional berry crops: fertile chernozem soil with high humus content, enough water for watering and, importantly, hard-working people.

According to the results of agrochemical survey, it was found that all our soils in this region are weakly acidic or close to neutral (pH 5.0–6.0). For crops such as garden strawberries or raspberries, this is the optimal indicator when most of the micro and macro elements are well available to plants. Accordingly, there was no need to apply soil reclamation agents or a large amount of mineral fertilizers to the main fertilization. We decided to plant berries using mulching film.

 

This avoids competition from weeds and minimizes the use of herbicides. In addition, the mulching film can significantly reduce moisture loss, i.e. optimizes watering costs.

 

– When did you grow your plants?

– We planted the first garden strawberry plantations in the summer, using a modern type of Frigo planting material, which professional seed plots store frozen at a temperature of -1.8 °C and supply to customers from early spring to late autumn.

Some of our plantations are grown using intensive conventional technology. For maximum productivity, we apply water-soluble mineral fertilizers together with irrigation water using a computerized fertigation unit. In addition, we periodically carry out foliar feeding with trace elements and amino acids. We develop a feeding system directly for each variety, taking into account the needs of the plant in different phases of its development.

As for the protection system, even for conventional plantings we try to limit the use of chemical protection. Buyers of our frozen berries are well-known European companies for which product safety is a top priority in choosing a supplier. The methods of integrated plant protection system against diseases and pests that we use allow us to obtain conventional products with zero pesticide content, which, although not certified as organic, but absolutely safe for the consumer.

Red currants, black currants and remontant raspberries are grown using organic technologies. Organic fertilizers are used for these crops before planting. For protection we use only allowed drugs.

– Which buyers are the products of FE “Eco Berry” aimed at?

– Today FE “Eco Berry” is focused on both the local market and exports. We have completed the construction of a refrigerator with a capacity of 5.25 thousand cubic meters for shock freezing, packing and storage of fruits and berries. To achieve a high level of quality, we decided to place processing on the main field. This location of production facilities allows us to work with fresh berries immediately after harvest, which minimizes the process of transporting products. We involved professionals in the construction of the plant, in particular the domestic company “4 Elements” (4stykhii), which specializes in industrial refrigeration equipment.

We guarantee reliable processing, freezing, sorting and packaging of products, because we have attracted leaders among equipment manufacturers to these processes. Now we can offer customers a quality product of European level.

We already have an Organic Standard certificate for some products. Soon we will receive HACCP, FSSC 22000 certificates. For this purpose we pass rather difficult certification procedures.

Maria Mykhno
Plantator Magazine, July 2020