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When questioned about the evolution of their business in the context of the recent situation, Italian plant nurseries have observed that the Covid pandemic has not had any notable impact on the sector of ornamental plants, whereas in the area of professional products for plant nurseries, they have noticed a notable slowdown due to the uncertain situation of the markets, which is undoubtedly due to the pandemic.
According to the leaders of Acerplant, a nursery located in Campania, near Acerra (Naples), “Planning for the crops of the spring season in the south-central region of Italy has been 70% focused on the production of solanaceae plants (tomatoes, sweet peppers and eggplants), the rest being dedicated to cucurbits (zucchini and melons) and asteraceae (including lettuces). We have recorded an increase in the demand for hybrid varieties of processing tomatoes and for the San Marzano protected place of origin label (D.o.p or “Denominazione di origine protetta”), particularly for plants intended to be grown in Campania.”
Francesco Pirolo, the plant-nursery operator, has underlined the fact that “for some time now, agriculture in general and plant nurseries in particular have been tending towards sustainable practices, with reduced usage of chemical inputs and a preference for alternative strategies to fight against infestations. Indeed, growers themselves are adopting this approach, with the increase in demand for resistant varieties, particularly against the main viral issues that can affect crops.”
The same operator added: “Plant nursery operators must know how to correctly ‘estimate’ production variables and be able to compensate for weather hazards when possible. This has reached the point where we have set up a system to keep track of environmental parameters in order to supply advice on decision-making processes and production methods, so as to reduce chemical inputs. Each day, we check the temperature in the greenhouses as well as in the substrate, controlling relative humidity, pH, and the electric conductivity of the nutritive solution, in order to produce healthy, balanced, and compact plants.”
The Acerplant nursery, which was founded in 1989, currently has greenhouses covering 11,000 m², with 80% of the company’s turnover being provided by plants intended for professionals.
According to those in charge, the company’s mission today is to strive for sustainable operations with minimal environmental impact that reduce the use of chemical inputs. This approach is in line with “Agriculture 4.0”, which can be satisfactorily combined with integrated crop management. On this point, Pirolo explained: “We have great confidence in the considerable efforts put into genetic improvement (non-GMO) by seed-breeding companies in recent years. Furthermore, we are convinced that useful insects represent a valuable asset in reducing chemical treatments and, even more importantly, we value the increasing focus on beneficial microorganisms, which can be used antagonistically against pathogenic agents in the soil because they can increase the efficiency of the usage of water and nutrients. Furthermore, we are converting part of the nursery to organic plants, so as to respond to the sharp increase in demand.”
Pirolo concluded by pointing out: “Our goal for the future is to set up equipment that increasingly answers the need for temperature-controlled greenhouses, given the high variability of the environment due to climate change. We intend to build greenhouses equipped with automatic openings, in order to better manage environmental parameters like humidity, temperature and light.”