Japanese producer Kagome has recently completed its first season with a new tomato greenhouse complex designed and built by the Japanese company Daisen in close collaboration with a Dutch firm. The high-tech turnkey project comprises approximately 2 ha and is based on a revolutionary growing concept which uses innovative technologies to control the greenhouse climate. This makes it possible to grow crops in ideal conditions, boosting yield whilst also reducing energy usage and water consumption.
“The first ‘seed’ for the Kagome project was planted back in 2007, when Casey Houweling patented and launched Ultra-Clima technology in California, USA,” explains Robert Keijzer from Kubo, the Dutch firm which provides technical expertise and exclusively represents the concept worldwide. “One of our first customers for this concept was Peter Satow, an experienced British crop consultant who has his own tomato greenhouse facility in the South of France.”
Japan’s biggest tomato producer
Tokyo-based Kagome had been working with Peter Satow as a crop consultant since 2007. Kagome now had ambitious plans to build a high-tech, 2 ha greenhouse to expand its tomato production facility based in Akeno-cho, Yamanashi Prefecture, at the foot of the Japanese Alps.
“The climate in Akeno-cho is similar to the conditions in southern France: mild conditions in winter and spring but hot and humid summers – both during the day and at night – which has a negative impact on production,” explains Keijzer. “Peter Satow understood the challenges Kagome faced and could wholeheartedly recommend the new concept to solve them. He introduced Kagome to us in 2013.”
Established in 1899, Kagome is specialised in the manufacture and sale of condiments, foods and beverages, and the purchase, manufacture and sale of seeds, seedlings, processed vegetables and fruits. The firm is Japan’s biggest tomato producer based on market share and employs over 2,300 people. “We sell almost all our fresh tomatoes to supermarkets, with food service accounting for less than 5% of our business,” says Satoshi Harada, project manager at Kagome. “We have been fully focused on the domestic Japanese market so far, but we are currently running some export trials in Hong Kong too.”
One of the biggest challenges in this project was of a financial nature, as Harada explains: “The exchange rate was terrible for us. It increased from around 90JPY/euro in 2013 to 140JPY/euro in 2014. This meant that by the time the financing was approved in 2014, there was a gap in the budget. In close consultation with the project partners, we cut back on components such as the heat storage tank and roof washer to reduce the overall project costs without compromising on quality.”
Building work finally started on the foundations in June 2014. “The foundations were another very important aspect of this project since the greenhouse facility had to satisfy strict Japanese requirements for earthquake resistance,” adds Harada. The construction of the greenhouse itself started at the beginning of September. The greenhouse is 6.7 metres high and comprises 1.9 ha. It contains seven rows of gutters in 12 metres. All the systems were installed on schedule and on budget, amounting to a total investment of approximately EUR3 million. Planting took place at the end of December 2014.
The ventilation system is standard Ultra-Clima including side ventilation with some top ventilation for blow out. Insect screens are installed outside the side ventilation and top ventilation. The greenhouse is designed to produce the maximum result at every moment of the day thanks to optimal temperature, humidity, sunlight and CO2 efficiency. A number of factors combine to make the concept so unique. “A system of special fans and air hoses, which can be precisely managed, distributes the air along perforated double-wall ducts which run beneath each gutter. This circulates the air to all the plants in the greenhouse and this active ventilation creates a uniform climate throughout the greenhouse environment. Outside air is fed into the greenhouse and, if necessary, is first cooled to the optimum temperature for tomatoes. Furthermore, the generation of overpressure helps to keep insects out, thus lessening the need for crop protection measures,” explains Keijzer.
Heating costs reduced by 20%
The greenhouse in Akeno-cho is based on a semi-closed design. Reducing the number of air vents has allowed more natural sunlight and heat to reach the plants to stimulate maximum production. “The light transmission is better than in traditional set-ups because there is less top ventilation. Also, thanks to improved climate control, we can keep a higher CO2 concentration than in traditional systems, and for longer. Air circulation in the greenhouse is good for activating plants – it creates a more active mode for photosynthesis and increases their absorption,” comments Harada.
The greenhouse includes LPG heating in the corridor only (not with base pipe). In terms of energy efficiency, the use of convection heating using a heat exchanger is more fuel-effective and produces lower CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. Furthermore, the active ventilation system brings in drier air from outside, thus reducing the amount of energy needed to dehumidify the air. All air in the greenhouse is also extracted, treated and re-circulated through the advanced network of air ducts, which minimises the loss of heat and CO2. “We’ve reduced our heating costs by around 20% compared with traditional systems,” adds Harada. Last but not least, the reuse of water guarantees minimal use of valuable water resources.
The temperature control and humidity regulation of the Ultra-Clima system enabled Kagome to continue production during the challenging summer months in 2015. “This helped us to achieve the highest production (yield/m2) of tomatoes in Japan in the first year,” comments Harada. “At over 70 kilos per square metre, the first-season harvest was approximately 20% higher than other production locations, and the target for next year is around 80 kg/m2. Naturally, the tomatoes from the new greenhouse comply with the strict quality standards applied by us and our clients,” he adds. “We have collaborated with Daisen on several other projects in the past and we regard the company as the best partner for Kagome. We also had good experience of working with Kubo, the only company that can build this concept, on this project and are very satisfied with the results,” concludes Harada.
In 2014, Japanese tomato grower Kagome built a brand-new 2 ha greenhouse facility in Akeno-cho, at the foot of the Japanese Alps. In view of the mild winters and hot and humid summers, the company chose to install the high-tech Ultra-Clima climate management system to optimise production all season long. By the end of the first season, the yield was up by approximately 20% while maintain the same level of quality. Meanwhile, Kagome’s heating costs had been reduced by around one fifth.
Text: Lynn Radford. Photos: KUBO