From 30 March to 1 April 2022, VIRTIGATION partners gathered in Almería, Spain for the project’s annual meeting. They discussed progress made and the next steps ahead for the project. In parallel to its annual meeting, the project also officially launched the VIRTIGATION network through a workshop with key local stakeholders. Read our recap of VIRTIGATION visit to Europe’s greenhouse capital.
Almería - the heart of European vegetable production
The Spanish province of Almería houses an estimated 40,000 hectares of greenhouses. This is the largest concentration of greenhouses in the world. Almería is the heart of European vegetable production and supplies tomatoes and cucurbits year-round to grocery stores on the continent. Almería’s greenhouse production is so large that it is even visible from space. Once one of the poorest provinces in Spain, agriculture has vastly improved Almería’s economic situation.
Successful launch of VIRTIGATION network
Against this backdrop, Europe’s greenhouse capital was the optimal location to officially launch the VIRTIGATION network. Taking place at our partner TECNOVA headquarters in Almería, VIRTIGATION organized on 30 March a stakeholder workshop with key local actors. The aim was to kick off a dialogue between VIRTIGATION partners and the Almería horticulture ecosystem. TECNOVA and AGAPA, the National Knowledge Broker for the Spanish VIRTIGATION network, co-organized the stakeholder workshop. The workshop gathered 21 stakeholders, including representatives from key actors such as CASI, NatureSweet, IFAPA, Ganfer, Koppert, Agrobio, Grupo La Caña, Biobest, UNICA, Asehir, Rijk Zwaan and Semilleros Salipant took part in the workshop.
José Luis Estrella, president of TECNOVA, and Alberto Mirón Mirón, AGAPA provincial coordinator for Almería, outlined the importance of projects such as VIRTIGATION to support the horticulture ecosystem in tackling emerging viral diseases. VIRTIGATION coordinator Hervé Vanderschuren from KU Leuven and the leaders of the project’s research plan then outlined how their research and innovation can meet market demand and priorities from the local horticulture value chain. Following the plenary session, VIRTIGATION partners led by DCM CORP (Belgium), University of Catania (Italy) and Volcani Center (Israel) gathered the stakeholders present in two working groups. The working groups discussed stakeholders’ needs and ideas for the topics of seeds and vegetable material, as well as IPM. The results of these discussions will feed into VIRTIGATION research as part of the project’s multi-actor approach.
Field visits to Almerían key stakeholders
After the VIRTIGATION network launch event, VIRTIGATION partners visited installations of two key actors of the Almerían horticulture value chain. Firstly, Syngenta Spain invited partners to visit its research center in the town of El Ejido, the epicenter of Almerían greenhouse production. Project partners could see first-hand the insides of a typical vegetable greenhouse in the area. They could also find out more about Syngenta Spain’s research into protecting tomatoes and cucurbits from emerging viral diseases caused by ToBRFV, ToLCNDV and TYLCV.
Secondly, the local cooperative Vicasol SCA then opened its doors to VIRTIGATION partners. Vicasol SCA is a major fruits and vegetables player in the area that exports its products to Europe, North America and Asia. Project partners could get a glimpse of Vicasol’s logistics centre. At this centre, vast amounts of tomatoes and cucurbits are processed and packaged for export to 34 different countries.
VIRTIGATION annual meeting
On 31 March and 1 April, VIRTIGATION partners gathered again in TECNOVA headquarters to take stock of the progress made so far. They assessed the research and innovation developments in all components of the project’s research plan and also outlined the next steps ahead. By the end of 2022, first significant results are expected to be produced by the project.
VIRTIGATION partners also had the opportunity to see other sides of Almería than its well-known greenhouses and horticultural installations. The Alcazaba de Almería, one of the biggest citadels built by the Arabs in Spain, illuminates the rich history of Almería. Under Islamic rule, Almería used to be a world city and vital Mediterranean hub. In recent times, Almería has also become known as important filming location for the global movie industry. Films such as Indiana Jones and series such as Game of Thrones have been shot in Almería. It highlights the versatility of the city and province alongside its ongoing importance as a global horticulture hub.
Find here also the recap of our annual meeting in Spanish from our partner and organizer TECNOVA. The next VIRTIGATION annual meeting will take place in 2023, hopefully also again face-to-face if COVID-19 circumstances allow for it!
© all pictures: RTDS