The large agricultural sector in Italy is made up of small and medium-sized businesses, each of which is closely linked to its territory. One of them is the Padua family business. “We grow tomatoes in our greenhouse,” says Corrado Padua, agronomist and next in line to head the family company. “Before, we used to grow eggplants and bell peppers in the fields, as well as a special type of bean called fagiolo cosarusciaro di scicli, which we could only find in this area.” Then a few years ago, the company expanded its greenhouses. Since then, their focus has been exclusively on greenhouse tomato cultivation. “The newly constructed, multi-tunneled, greenhouse of South Africa. This ensures better air circulation and allows us to be more efficient during the hot season.
The close relationship with the territory refers to the products produced in this area in Sicily, and the Corrado tomato is no exception. “The climate here is one of the things that makes our tomatoes so special,” he said. But of course this is not the only reason. “My principle is that I don’t eat anything that isn’t healthy and sustainably grown. This is why, for example, I mainly use natural remedies as crop protection and only use chemicals when necessary. However, this comes at a cost. “Chemicals are better in terms of quick results,” Corrado said. “With natural products and the likes, you have to rethink your method, because these require constant application. This means that natural products are often more expensive than chemicals, so operating costs increase.
At the same time, Corrado’s extreme care for sustainable farming does not qualify it to be considered organic. “Because I’m growing hydroponically, it can’t be considered organic, even though I use less chemicals than conventional farms.”
In these times of energy and water crisis, operating costs can be very serious. “Everything became more expensive,” says Corrado. For example, even though we mainly have net greenhouses here, they still have steel and iron infrastructure. But the price of steel has gone through the roof, if in the past you were getting 30-35 euros per square meter, now it has doubled. There is a series of events in Sicily that make the work of growers like Corrado more complicated than usual. “Water is becoming increasingly scarce, which means growers have had to take measures to protect water reserves, often at the cost of part of the grain.
Corrado is actually seeing a reduction in cropland around him. “Many growers have reduced their crops due to rising production costs and chronic labor shortages. As the campaign has just started, it remains to be seen how much product will be available in the market. I believe it would be safe to do some sort of review by December.
As if all that wasn’t enough, Tomato Growers and Corrado, of course, have been battling the Tomato Rags Virus, which is killing many crops. “This is undoubtedly our biggest challenge right now,” he said. “Once, I lost 50% of the crop, because unfortunately, there was nothing we could do: once it was in the greenhouse, it was too late. The only way out of this mess is to research new resistant strains that reduce the effects of rugose virus. There is still some time to wait before we get there, but I believe that in 2-3 years we will have something resistant to the rugose virus. However, this situation has been going on for five years, so I am looking forward to the end of this.
Uncertainty in the horticulture sector makes long-term planning difficult for Corrado and other growers. “You have to invest carefully,” he says. “It’s not unusual to take a break these days and think about our next steps. At the same time, I want to diversify my crops even more, adding some new varieties like yellow or purple tomatoes. On top of that, I want to invest more in our infrastructure and implement systems that allow you to fully control the climate. This aspect is very beneficial to the business as a grower can get a bigger yield and control pests and diseases with less effort.
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