One month ago, I did an interesting tour to Iceland. It has been a long time since I wanted to visit this isolated Island, close to the North Pole. That’s why I decided to organize the tour.
Iceland is a really fascinating country, characterized by a savage nature and lonely places of great beauty, still uncontaminated.
In this island, which lies 40 km away from the artic circle, the harsh and sometimes inhospitable land make the possibility to cultivate vegetables and fruits very difficult. Island, indeed, is a very cold country, where there is no daylight for many months in a year. As a result, plants do not grow easily in such a place. Nevertheless, the presence of geothermical areas, widely spread all over the icelandic territory, makes the temperature of the land not so cold.
Icelandic people are hard workers and they were able to take advantage from the geothermical resources thay have in abundance across the Island, which is situated in the meeting point of two tectonic platforms- the american and the euroasiatic plate. These two platforms have been separating and this creates a very active volanic and geothermic zone.
The land in Iceland is rich in hot water which reaches 100° C. Geotherm energy, coming from the deepest layers of the Hearth, is used in different ways: to heat houses and buildings, for industrial use, to heat thermal centers, etc.
In the past, the idea to create real greenhouses where the heat is provided by geothermal water, where to cultivate plants has been developed. The idea appeared for the first time in 1924 and nowadays it has been widely diffuse in the south of the island, with very innovative technologies. Among the most common products we can find tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, strawberries and flowers.
The most renowned site for the presence of geothermal greenhouses is situated in the south of the island, around the city of Husavik.
The Fridheimar family and their eco-sustainable enterprise.
I ended up in the farm “Fridheimar”, enterprise of a family who has built several greenhouses which are open to the public for a turistic visit. I took advantage of this opportunity to see how these “buildings” work.
The green house cultivation is present in this place since 1946. The family Fridheimar, formed by an agronomist, Mr Knutur and his
wife Helena, horticulturalist, lives here since 1995 with their 5 children, who actively partecipate in the work of the farm. They cultivate tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, stawberries and aromatic herbs. Mr Knutur has been the first farmer to specialized in the cultivation of tomatoes in Island. From tomatoes they obtain products such as tomatoes’ soups to offer to the turists, sauces, tomato puree, and they also sell fresh tomatoes to the supermarkets of the entire Island.
Knútur and Helena have striven to keep up with developments in the field, and made many study visits to neighbouring countries to learn about cultivation methods, build up networks, and enhance their knowledge. They have set themselves high standards in their production: they produce a fresh, tasty and genuine product, paying attention to the environment standards and to the respect of the eco system. This was possible thanks to the richest natural resource in Iceland: the geothermal energy. In 2009 they were awarded the Agricultural University of Iceland Incentive Award, and in 2010 they were chosen Growers of the Year by the Horticultural Marketing Association. In 2011 they received the Encouragement Reward of Icelandic Farm Holidays.
Tomatoes for the whole country!
When I entered the greenhouse I was amazed by the long rows of tomato plants which reach great heights, in order to optimize the place. There were plants full of mature tomatoes, 9 meters high!
Tomatoes are cultivated all year long in these greenhouses and they produce around 300 tonnes, which correspond to around 18% of the total icelandic market of tomatoes. Mr Knutur himself, was the first one in Europe to develop a continuos cultivation of tomatoes all year.
They use the electricity all year, especially in the darkest winter months. The electricity is called “green” because it is generated by hydroelectric and geothermal station.
It’s worthy to notice that in Iceland there are very few pests and therefore it’s not necessary to use pesticides on the plants, as they do in Holland or other countries where they use greenhouses.
In particolar, in the Fridheimar farm, they pay much attention to the biological control.
Knutur and his staff manage the presence of the pests exclusively with biological methods. The most effective of these is the predatory mirid bug Macrolophus pygmaeus, which devours all the main pests that afflict tomato plants. A good grower will also strive to manage temperature, humidity and watering so that the plants flourish and produce the optimum yield. They do this using an authomatic system of irrigation, which allows them to use water in the right volume without wasting water resources.
The sustainable choice of this farm lies also in the re-use of wet waste, which derive from the vegetables and fruit cultivation. These are use as compost and natural fertilizer for the terrain.
During the summer period, the tomato production is clearly more remarkable, nevertheless even in the winter period it continues, from novembre to march.
The cultivation of local products in Iceland is clearly more expensive than the import products, as a consequence of the high labour cost. Neverthelss, this cost is reduced by the low energetic cost, thanks to the geothermical sources Iceland is rich in, a resource which is even cheaper than wind resource.
Local is better!
There is a great demand for local products in Iceland. Consumers prefer to spend more, but to choose the local production instead of the imported one, because the first one is tastier and it has a greater freshness and quality.
Apparently, because of its position in the very north of the Hearth and its geographic isolation, one can think that this is not the ideal place where to cultivate in greenhouses. Actually, these factors, together with the natural resources it is rich in, make it one of the best place for this type of cultivation. There are, indeed, less possibilities for the plants to be attacked by the pests.
Anyway, it is indeed the geothermal energy, one of the resources which gives to this country unique conditions to cultivate in greenhouses. Geothermal energy is used to heat and sterilise the land and to produce electricity which is needed to light up the plants during the darkest months of the icelandic winter. Even the volcanic products, such as the pumice-stone, which Iceland is rich in, are used instead of the terrain. The growth of the plants in this type of volcanic terrain make it easier to control humidity and fertilization.
Geothermal energy, a new sustainable source for the agricolture
The are a lot of advantages in the use of geothermal energy. It can be provided without burning fossil fuel like carbon, gas or oil. Geothermal areas produce only 1/6 of carbon dioxide than the amount produced by a clean central, provided with natural gas. The difference with the wind and solar energy is that the geothermal energy is always available, 365 days per year.
Although Iceland will not be present at the Expo 2015, it is a great example of how natural resources can be better used, and above all, in a sustainable and eco-compatible way, in order to obtain agricultural production even in harsh and difficult geographical contexts.
This allows to cultivate agricultural products locally, reducing the imports and the consequent transports costs and waste which derive from that.