Into the blue

Into the blue

Food – 11.01.21

Elite Agro, one the leading producers in the UAE, has pioneered blueberry farming in the Middle East. We visited its facility to understand how this superfood is grown

Spinneys
Spinneys
Author

Rising out of the desert in Al Ain are rows upon rows of white structures with curved roofs that stand out starkly against the Hajar mountain range in the distance. These greenhouses are where Elite Agro grows a multitude of fresh vegetables and fruit ranging from pumpkins and capsicums to watermelons and blueberries.

“This is the first project in the region for blueberries and we started it in April 2019,” explains Abdelfatah Jebari, who is the head grower for blueberries. “The idea behind this venture was to produce berries here for local consumption.”

Elite Agro has 20 greenhouses dedicated to blueberry production
Elite Agro has 20 greenhouses dedicated to blueberry production

Blueberries are perennial flowering plants that are native to North America but are now cultivated all over the world. They’ve become increasingly popular as a superfood. Their high-water content means that a whole cup of blueberries contains only about 84 calories but will provide almost a quarter of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C. Plus they’re bursting with antioxidants, which prevent cell damage.

Elite Agro has 20 greenhouses covering a total of 12 hectares dedicated to blueberry production. They are equipped with state-of-the-art automated climate control technology to ensure the plants thrive. “We have brought in five varieties from Mountain Blue Orchard, a breeding programme in Australia. All five are premium varieties and include the famous Jumbo variety named Eureka, which is known for its large fruit size. We will supply Spinneys with all these blueberries,” says Abdelfatah. The company has obtained exclusive rights to grow and sell these varieties in 13 countries in the Middle East.

Elite Agro has obtained the exclusive rights to grow and sell five premium blueberry varieties in the Middle East
Elite Agro has obtained the exclusive rights to grow and sell five premium blueberry varieties in the Middle East
Elite Agro has obtained the exclusive rights to grow and sell five premium blueberry varieties in the Middle East
Elite Agro has obtained the exclusive rights to grow and sell five premium blueberry varieties in the Middle East

We stepped inside one greenhouse and cast our eyes on seemingly endless swathes of green. Each of these large structures can accommodate 3,350 potted blueberry plants. The saplings are sown in a growing medium, which is a combination of coco peat, perlite and other substances, created specifically for blueberries. “We use drip irrigation to supply them with nutrients that have been mixed with water and are able to control the growth of individual plants by regular soil and foliage analysis,” Abdelfatah tells us. Pests and diseases are controlled by using approved prevention methods, climate control, scouting and intervention.

It takes around 70-90 days for the fruit to mature from bud to berry stage with factors such as temperature and humidity influencing the maturation period. Once they are ripe, the berries are harvested, graded and packaged by hand and every care is taken to maintain the highest standards of hygiene throughout the process. After harvesting the crop, the plants are pruned and prepared for the next season.

Abdelfatah Jebari, head grower for blueberries
Abdelfatah Jebari, head grower for blueberries

“The first harvest in 2020 gave us an average of 2.5kg berries per plant. We are expecting higher yields in 2021 and it should keep increasing until the fourth year,” says Abdelfatah. By 2023, Elite Agro’s blueberry plants should have reached their maximum potential.

The current Guinness Record for the largest blueberry is 16.20g. According to Abdelfatah, the company aims to beat that record since it has already harvested many berries that were as large if not larger in 2020.

For more information, visit eag.ae