Home News Science&Tech Swiss vegetable grower Wyssa grows lettuce in open-air hydroponics

Swiss vegetable grower Wyssa grows lettuce in open-air hydroponics

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Lettuce on gutters is in itself an absolute rarity in Switzerland. Of the three cultivation companies that are engaged in so-called hydro cultivation, the family company Wyssa in Galmiz (Kanton Freiburg) is the only one that grows the lettuce in the open air, not under glass.

Despite the risk of bad weather and insects that is always lurking, the lettuce thrives particularly well in Western Switzerland. And although the Corona crisis has also hit hard in Switzerland, the company is considering further expanding its cultivation on water, said Christoph Wyssa, together with father Thomas responsible for management.

In 2006, father Thomas first came into contact with the then new cultivation on water during a trip through the Netherlands. Only 10 years later, the first lettuce on gutters was planted in the open air on the Swiss company. Currently, the acreage comprises around 0.5 ha and five varieties are grown, namely lettuce mix (Lolo Biona, Lolo Rosso and red oak leaf), head lettuce (red and green) and oak leaf (red and green). “Our cultivation varieties are normally planted in early March and harvested in mid-April. If everything goes according to plan, we can supply fresh lettuce until mid-October,” says Christoph.

The recent frost caused the growth of the hydros lettuce not to have done well, Christoph kicks off in mid-April. “The night temperature was always around -4 to -5 degrees in early April, which is simply too low for the lettuce on gutters. We have already tried to cover the lettuce in the past, but it is virtually impossible to Insulate as the lettuce grows at height Even if we wanted to protect the lettuce through a tunnel, the cold air at the bottom would still enter the tunnel, so the bottom line is that we are not yet a good remedy for this have found a fault. ”

The late frost will lead to product failure, either clockwise or counterclockwise, it is expected.

“Since we only planted the lettuce in the third week of March, this will hopefully be kept under control. Fortunately, the weather will also improve from now on, so that we can harvest at the end of April – a week later than usual.”

In these times of Corona there is a second challenge for the Swiss vegetable grower: The tightened border controls in many European countries have led to an acute shortage of pickers and other seasonal workers. Christoph: “Unfortunately, we also have less staff than usual. Fortunately, we are now supported on all sides by regional forces – for example catering entrepreneurs who now have nothing to do themselves – who want to assist us during this difficult time.”

On the other hand, the crisis also brings new opportunities, certainly for innovative companies, it sounds optimistic. “I am convinced that in these times people are even more sensitive to regional products on the shelves. The demand will therefore be even higher this year, I predict. In terms of pricing, the Corona crisis will cause a slight I see a price increase in the complete lettuce range. I have to make the comment that hydros lettuce is usually traded at a small additional cost compared to normal lettuce, although the prices here also differ from retailer to retailer. ”

The vast majority of Wyssa’s hydros lettuce ends up on the shelves at Migros. However, a small proportion also reach other retailers (including Coop) or the wholesaler via intermediaries.

Despite the crisis, the vegetable grower does not lose sight of his long-term goals. Also this year, possible new hydro varieties will be tested on a small scale. “During the season, in addition to the existing lettuce on gutters, we also plant iceberg lettuce on a small scale, about two crates of planting material every week. The results have been fantastic so far.

We have carried out similar tests with various herb varieties, including chives, parsley and basil. Depending on the weather conditions, we plant small volumes two to three times a year. Basil grows surprisingly well as a hydroponic variety. ”

It would almost be forgotten at this time, but before the Corona crisis erupted, packaging was by far the main theme within the German-speaking fresh produce sector, including Switzerland. The Wyssa family currently packs its lettuce on gutters in plastic bags. However, it is being examined whether other, more sustainable alternatives are also realistic in the long term.

“We have considered paper, but we have come to the conclusion that the environmental impact is on balance higher. We also attach importance to not just launching new packaging from tomorrow to tomorrow, but to offering our customers a future-oriented, well-considered alternative. In our view, that is the only, meaningful way. “

The marketing around the product hydros lettuce can also be significantly improved, according to Christoph. “The Swiss retail mixes normal and hydro lettuce, so that the consumer hardly notices that he or she buys lettuce on gutters. This does not apply to the lettuce mix, which we sell including carrots, which clearly shows that it is hydroponics. We also notice that the consumer is very pleased with this relatively new cultivation technique. Unfortunately, the usefulness and advantages of hydro cultivation in the fruit and vegetable sector are not yet sufficiently underlined, “it concludes.

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