R & L Holt

Fresh produce has been grown in the county of Worcestershire for hundreds of years. We are known throughout the world in particular for the quality and taste of our asparagus, salad vegetables and soft fruits. However, the technology underpinning the production of some of these crops is anything but traditional.

R & L Holt is an agricultural businesses in Worcestershire that is deploying innovative practices to its tomato growing operations. The business is owned by Rick and Laura Holt who, with the help of their children, Roly and Felicity, have been growing tomatoes since the 1980s. However, from the early 2000s, the Holts have introduced a futuristic approach to tomato growing at their three (shortly to become four) greenhouses in Worcestershire. Their objective: to produce tomatoes every day of the year, without compromising on taste.

This objective has now been achieved, with tomatoes ripe and ready for picking from January to January. In order to meet this goal, a range of ground-breaking techniques has been deployed to optimise the growing environment in their vast greenhouses. Rather than being at the beck and call of unpredictable British weather, temperature, lighting, CO2 levels and air quality are all now automatically monitored and controlled by computers.

Achieving the correct balance between lighting and heating is at the heart of successful growing and the Holts are constantly experimenting to find the optimum conditions. At their greenhouses, the Holts have installed more than 3,500 LED lighting fixtures each comprising four red and one blue bulbs. The reds improve flower development, the blue leaf development. The LED lighting is switched on and off automatically by computer, dependent upon the weather, to create the perfect conditions for growing.

Temperature within the greenhouses is manipulated through a range of other devices such as high pressure sodium lamps and thermal screening blinds. In addition, the greenhouses are the first in the UK to use diffused glass, which is particularly beneficial in hot weather when natural light can be diffused to maximum benefit for the plants.

All tomatoes are grown hydroponically (ie without soil, using mineral nutrients in a water solvent) and the Holts are committed to energy efficiency. Energy to heat and light the greenhouses is produced using gas from the National Grid to a combined heat and power plant, with any excess being sold back to the Grid. The lowest tech part of the business is perhaps the hundreds of English bumble bees that are released into the greenhouses to pollinate the plants!

In 2015, R & L Holt were runners up in the Tomato Grower of the World competition. At the ceremony in Berlin, the Holts were applauded for their ‘unconventional and progressive’ techniques. As UK growers currently only produce enough tomatoes to meet 20% of British demand, the need for the crop is not going to go away any time soon. The Holts remain committed to their future in Worcestershire and to the pursuit of new and innovative production techniques.

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