A newly-opened 8,500sq m tomato glasshouse in the Vale of Evesham will be the first in the UK to use LED inter-row lighting to grow a year-round commercial crop.
At the official opening ceremony (20 May), timed to coincide with British Tomato Week, Rick Holt, partner at family company R&L Holt, told Grower: "With a conventional tomato crop in the UK you can only pick from March to November. The missing link so far has been the lights.
"If you just have conventional lighting in the roof you get heat, which is a nuisance. But you can put LEDs closer to the crop - it's a kinder environment and they can be used throughout the year, even on dull summer days."
The lighting beams are mounted with four red LEDs for every blue LED, which research has shown is the optimum "light recipe" for tomatoes, he added. "LEDs are still very expensive but the advantages make it worth doing. It's easier to make that kind of decision with a wholly new glasshouse.
Philips is surprised that it's the smaller growers who are making use of this technology, but such firms can find it easier to make these kind of decisions."
The glasshouse also features double screens and double-paned diffuse glass throughout, which penetrates the crop better, and air ducting under the rows. "The double screens increase insulation so reducing energy use and reduce light pollution," said Rick's son Roly Holt, also a partner in the firm.
"The combined heat and power unit will supply all our CO2 needs. We will only need 10 per cent of the electricity it produces with the lights off, or 50 per cent with the lights on. The rest - around 1.2 MW - will go to the grid."
The glasshouse was planted in March and began cropping in May. Varieties include the large Elegance and the cherry Piccolo.
"It's a world-class development. Glasshouses are very capital-intensive - they cost about £1m a hectare to build - so you need long-term commitment and sustainable returns. This shows it can be done. I'm suffering some serious glasshouse envy here."
Nigel Bartle, chairman, British Tomato Growers Association