21 Jan 2021

The 12 hectares blueberry greenhouse in the Abu-Dhabi desert

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In Al Ain, in the desert 160 km from Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), row upon row of white structures with curved roofs stand out against the Hajar mountain range in the distance. These greenhouses are where Elite Agro grows a multitude of fresh vegetables and fruits ranging from pumpkins and peppers to watermelons and blueberries.

"This is the first project in the region for blueberries and we started it in April 2019," explains Abdelfatah Jebari, who is the production manager at blueberries. "The idea behind this initiative was to produce berries here for local consumption."

blueberries are perennial flowering plants originally from North America, but now cultivated all over the world. They have become increasingly popular as a superfood. Their high water content means that a whole cup of blueberries contains only about 84 calories, but provides almost a quarter of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C. They are also full of antioxidants, which prevent cell damage.

Elite Agro has 20 greenhouses covering a total of 12 hectares dedicated to the production of blueberries. They are equipped with state-of-the-art automated climate control technology to ensure plant growth. "We brought five varieties from Mountain Blue Orchard, a breeding program in Australia. All five are premium varieties and include the famous Jumbo variety called Eureka, known for its large fruit size. We will supply Spinneys supermarkets with all these blueberries," says Abdelfatah. The company has obtained exclusive rights to grow and sell these varieties in 13 countries in the Middle East.

We walked into a greenhouse and cast our eyes over seemingly endless expanses of green. Each of these large structures can accommodate 3,350 potted plants of blueberry . The plants grow in a growing medium, which is a combination of coco peat, perlite and other substances, created especially for blueberries. "We usedrip irrigation to provide them with nutrients that have been mixed with water and are able to control the growth of individual plants throughregular analysis of the soil and foliage," Abdelfatah tells us. Pests and diseases are controlled using approved methods of prevention, climate control, scouting and intervention.

It takes about 70-90 days for the fruit to mature from bud to berry with factors such as temperature and humidity affecting the ripening period. Once ripe, the berries are picked, sorted and packed by hand and every care is taken to maintain the highest standards of hygiene throughout the process. After harvesting, the plants are pruned and prepared for the next season.

"The first harvest in 2020 gave us an average of 2.5 kg of berries per plant. We expect higher yields in 2021 and it should continue to increase until the fourth year," says Abdelfatah. By 2023, Elite Agro's blueberry plants should have reached their full potential.

The current Guinness World Record for the largest blueberry is 16.20g. According to Abdelfatah, the company is aiming to break that record, as it has already harvested many berries that were just as big, if not bigger, in 2020.

Source: Spinneys

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