Grupo Alimentario Citrus (GAC) has officially opened its €1.3m Agronomic Innovation Centre in Montserrat, Valencia.
The highly automated research facility will focus on developing more efficient and sustainable production methods, as well creating new varieties that respond to current food trends, such as baby leaf lettuce and microgreens.
Following an inaugural ceremony attended by GAC president Joaquín Ballester Martinavarro, local dignatories and industry members, guests were given a tour of the facility to learn more about the projects that the company has lined up.
Located on a 160,000m2 site, the facility includes a 12,160m2 greenhouse that can house up to 10m plants, allowing trials can be carried out under controlled climatic conditions. The state-of-the-art structure has a remote control system to manage heating and fertigation.
Some months ago the company started trialing production of baby leaf lettuce varieties Batavia Red, Batavia Green and Lollo Rosso using a low volume hydroponic substrate and mobile aerial irrigation system. The method uses up to 60 per cent less water than open field cultivation and optimises the use of fertilisers by deploying only the exact amount needed without contaminating the soil.
The greenhouse currently produces 2,000 kg of baby leaf lettuce a week, most of which is transported to the Ribarroja plant of GAC’s fresh-cut division, Verdifresh, 20km away.
The centre also has a 1,264m2 warehouse equipped with temperature controlled chambers for sowing and pre-germination, that can also be used for artificial lighting tests.
Among the most innovative projects being developed in this part of the facility is a closed hydroponic cultivation system for leaf production, which recycles practically 100 per cent of the water and does not contaminate the soil. If successful, the system will be rolled out commercially.
“The facility allows the company to test new crops that respond to current trends in food, such as the demand for new flavours, textures and colours in the world of salads,” GAC said.
Among these new crops developed by the centre are microgreens, vegetable shoots that have a high concentration of nutritional properties and are gaining a growing profile in national and international cuisine, due to their distinctive aroma, flavour and colour.
Current trials with microgreens focus on varieties of broccoli, mustard, radish and kale sprouts.
The objective is to sell this product in its live state (without cutting or processing), to maintain moisture and freshness.