Thanet Earth, claimed to be a most hi-tech greenhouse and the largest of its kind in the UK, is coming up fast near Kent in south east England. The site is being developed by well-known fresh produce supplier, Fresca Group. A massive Ģ80 million is being invested in building the 91-hectare site, it has been stated.
British consumers are eating more and more salads, but most of the crops in supermarkets have to be imported. This development will add significant amounts of British-grown produce to the supermarket shelves, helping reduce food miles and the time it takes to get a tomato from plant to plate, Fresca says in a press release.
It will increase by 15% the UK's crop of salad vegetables. Cucumbers and peppers will be picked continuously from February to October and tomatoes harvested every day of the week, 52 weeks a year.
Vegetables will be grown exclusively using hydroponics - a method that uses nutrient rich water rather than soil.
The crop will be suspended from the eight-metre-high ceiling in rows, which will make picking far easier.
Seven power generating stations on site will heat the glasshouses and generate, as a byproduct, enough electricity to supply half of Thanet, an area in north-east Kent incorporating the towns of Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs.
It will use the hot water to replace conventional boiler heating normally needed to warm the greenhouses whilst the carbon dioxide will be absorbed by the plants as part of the natural growing process.
This kind of industrial agriculture is relatively common in the Netherlands and elsewhere but has never been attempted on this scale in the UK. But with British consumers increasingly demanding British salad vegetables, all year round, a consortium of Dutch growers approached Fresca, the UK's largest fresh produce supplier, with a plan to develop a site in Britain. Thanet Earth was born.
Chris Mack, Chairman of Fresca Group, is understandably proud of his company's achievement in getting such a landmark operation off the ground. "I doubt that there's any other company that would have had the resources, the ambition, the persistence and the vision to make Thanet Earth more than an idea", he said. "It's taken a committed team over two years to turn the idea into a reality. We've worked closely with Thanet Council who have been very keen to attract this level of investment to help secure an agricultural future for the area. As a Kent-based company, we're very excited about developing in Thanet. The creation of so many jobs will further enhance our position as one of Kent's leading employers."
Steve McVickers is the man in charge of Thanet Earth. With extensive international experience in the salad business, he has been instrumental from the outset in bringing Thanet Council, Fresca and the growers together and designing the site to allow all the latest growing industry innovations to finally come to the fore.
Fresca claims the Research and Visitor Complex will become the UK's leading centre for developing new salad varieties.
Workers will have to wear sunglasses on the job but will be guaranteed to enjoy a pleasant controlled climate at all times.
The first Thanet Earth crops will hit the shelves during the autumn of 2008, it is expected.