Father and daughter team Lucian and Laura Ene run the biggest and most high-tech gerbera cultivation facility in Romania. The last expansion, in 2019, increased the total production area to 15,700 m². At LucFlori they are now focusing on installing new technology, including an active ventilation system to tackle humidity issues, artificial lighting and perhaps even a CHP.

Lucian Ene comes from an agricultural region and has been growing fresh-cut flowers himself since the 1990s, initially seasonally on a relatively small scale. He subsequently moved into cultivating gerberas in order to generate an income all year round, and started with a 880 m² plastic greenhouse in 2008.
The operation is based in the south of Romania, around 30 km outside of the country’s capital, Bucharest, which is also the main sales market. “We only sell in Romania, and mostly in the south and east of the country, because the western and central regions are geographically closer to Hungary,” says Lucian Ene. “The majority of our flowers are sold through wholesaler/resellers, but we have a small team of our own delivery drivers and supply directly to flower shops in the local area. The quality, freshness and shelf life are what set our gerberas apart from imports. They are usually in stores just one or two days after harvesting.”

Coco peat substrate

LucFlori grows 60 to 70 varieties in a wide range of colours and sizes, including minis, standards and piccolinis. Most of the flowers are immediately tied into 20-stem bouquets as they are picked. “The coronavirus pandemic caused a drop in sales for us, so we’ve had to be creative and recently started packaging some flowers in boxes as a way of expanding our selling market,” he adds.
The seedlings are sourced from the Netherlands and are planted directly in the greenhouse, in a coco peat substrate. “They start producing flowers about two to four months after planting and they reach maximum productivity levels after six to nine months. The average total yield is around 220-240 stems/m² per year. We employ around 20 to 25 people depending on the season, with the main peaks in the spring and autumn.”

Focus on reducing costs

Ene’s first greenhouse was quickly followed by a second plastic greenhouse of 3,000 m² in 2009. A few years later, in 2013, the company’s first glass greenhouse – a Venlo type measuring 4,800 m² – was built. Then in the summer of 2019, a second Venlo-type glass greenhouse measuring 7,000 m² was added, bringing the total production area to almost 15,700 m².
Lucian’s daughter Laura, who is in her mid-twenties, helped her father out during that expansion alongside studying for her master’s degree. She has since joined the company full-time. “That was our last expansion for a while,” states Laura. “There is still a market for more volume, but for now we believe it’s more important to reduce our production costs by making better use of greenhouse technology, which we source from Certhon in the Netherlands.”

Energy screens

In terms of the climate in the south of Romania, the summers can be very hot, with extended periods of over 30ºC and sometimes as high as 36-38ºC from late May until late September. “In the summer we try to shade as much as possible. We use a light-diffusing whitewash which reduces the radiation intensity and hence minimizes the transpiration in the plants, plus we have a misting system to reduce the plant stress. And in the winter, temperatures can drop to minus 10 and there can be some snow, especially in February and March. We have Svensson energy screens, and we close them at night to reduce the temperature loss but that creates problems with humidity which can cause plant health issues such as mildew,” explains Lucian.

Active ventilation

In that context, LucFlori is currently in the process of installing a new active ventilation system (AVS) from Van Dijk Heating. The system works by mixing greenhouse air with drier air from outside, which is heated to a few degrees below greenhouse temperature. This system can also reuse the greenhouse air after passing it through a cooler followed by a heater in order to decrease the humidity. The drier air is then circulated directly at plant level thanks to the pipes running in between the plants.
“Having better night-time ventilation will enable us to keep the energy screens as well as the windows fully closed without humidity becoming an issue. That will reduce the heat loss and therefore save energy. It will also improve the temperature distribution in the greenhouse, so we have high hopes for the AVS to enable us to achieve better quality and a bigger yield while reducing our costs in the longer term,” he continues.

Extra heat from HPS lamps

Another way Lucian is aiming to improve crop quality and also reduce costs is by installing high-pressure sodium (HPS) lamps in the whole of the newest greenhouse, and he intends to roll out artificial lighting in other production areas soon afterwards. “We expect HPS to help us achieve more stable production rather than a drop in the winter and then a very steep rise in early spring. We also want to sustain the flower quality throughout the winter when there’s less natural light available. HPS is not as energy efficient as an LED system but the initial investment is lower, plus we welcome the extra heat.”

Next generation growing

“We always try to keep up with what’s new in the Netherlands and we’re interested in the research into next generation growing. The challenge is how to apply the right strategies for our particular climate,” adds the grower. The control of all their greenhouse systems is integrated in the Priva computer which records and stores all the data. “But you also need to understand how to make the most of that information to steer the crop. Marco de Groot from Flori Consult Group monitors the climate data in the computer remotely, helps us to analyse the plant performance and advises us on crop management. I have a background in math’s and physics so I have an analytical mind and am very interested in all the data. It’s a steep learning curve but also fascinating to combine my horticultural experience and understanding of what’s going on in the plants with all the data and technology for even better results.”

Future plans

The AVS and HPS implementations are not yet complete, yet the growers are already thinking about the future. “We’re planning to introduce a combined heat and power (CHP) unit next year. That will help with the heating, give us an extra energy source and also generate CO2. And from an energy-saving perspective we might even consider adding some LEDs to create a hybrid system,” reveals Lucian.
These and other projects will offer plenty of opportunities for Laura to become even more familiar with both the strategic and the operational sides of the company. “Despite not having a horticultural background, I’m really enjoying working at my father’s company – more than I expected to, in fact. The work is very diverse and I’m learning more about the technical aspects every day. So hopefully we will be able to keep the business in the family for many years to come!” she states.

Text: Lynn Radford, images: LucFlori