By BOB KOIGI
October 3, 2018, Nairobi. More than a year and half since Ruiru based Red Lands Roses Ltd invested in a solar power plant to use renewable source of energy and to cushion itself from runaway electricity costs and intermittent power losses, the farm is now able to save over Sh450,000 on bills every month while ensuring seamless and uninterrupted business operations, in one of the greatest payoffs of investment in solar energy to have ever been realized in the country’s floriculture industry.
But that is one of the many green innovations the 28 hectares farm has adopted, making it a trailblazer in technology in what the owners describe as a business model geared towards cost controlled flower production while embracing the highest levels of quality and meeting the ever-changing customer needs.
“We have been aligning the business to tap into technology because we realize that it is not only cost effective but also allows us to be ahead of the market and built our brand, at a time when the industry has become competitive,” said Aldric Spindler the executive director at the farm.
Indeed every operation at the company almost has an innovation aspect, from pest and disease scouting to water purification and harvesting. In fact other Kenyan growers have been frequenting the farm to learn best practices in growing premium flowers. “The market we serve deserves very high quality flowers and therefore we cannot leave anything to chance.
When we are talking about going green and controlling the cost of producing flowers we also must ensure that we are not compromising the quality, team safety and environment protection. So every little detail has to be monitored thoroughly,” added Mr. Spindler.
Such details starts from preparation of flower beds which is done with surgical precision including cleaning the pumice or murram, the medium through which the flowers are grown, ensuring the right PH balance and sterilizing so that no pests are left in the medium. Red Lands Roses was among the first companies in Kenya to go 100 per cent soilless in flower production with full recycling. This has by the way helped them a great deal during this rainy season as even during heavy pour down with rain water flooding into the greenhouses the plants were untouched and diseases kept under control.
“How we prepare the beds and the attention we give to the first stages of flower growing will determine the kind of flowers we will eventually get. Precision is our guiding principle here,” said Joseph Otieno a Greenhouse Supervisor at the farm. At the time of conducting this interview, Mr. Otieno was hawk eyed, and kept interrupting our chat as he moved to ensure workers at the beds were using the right substrate, or the first bending of the tender plants was accurate pointing to the attention accorded to the exercise.
The greenhouses that form the nerve of flower production have been automated with vital processes like fertigation, the process of feeding flowers with fertilizer, water and other nutrients, which are coordinated from a central position to ensure maximum uptake and less wastage through 100% recycling.
As the reality of the vagaries of weather hits home bringing with it pests and diseases that thrive in hot or cold conditions, the farm through its fogging system and movable vents in greenhouses controls the inside climate. The foggers automatically spray the water every three to four minutes during hot season. The greenhouses are all built by RICHEL with open/close vent system at the roof, a great help during the rains, enabling a close monitoring of the indoor climate.
To tame pests and diseases the farm has further invested heavily on natural enemies. Through a so called “dudu house”, an organic production unit under plastic tunnels, the farm produces Phytoseillus persimilis, one of the most useful biological beneficial insects against Red Spider Mites. At the unit, French beans plants are grown and after being infected by Red Spider Mites, the Phytroseilus persimilis is introduced and will feed and multiply on the pests. Every week some 1.2 million of these beneficial insects are harvested and released on the infected spots of roses.
The Phytoseillus eliminate the Red Spider Mites in days. “The beauty with this form of biological pest control besides the fact that it is environmentally friendly is that these beneficial pests are able to eliminate the mites in all the stages of their growth as opposed to conventional pesticides where a specific one is only potent to a mite in a specific stage,” said Petterson Muthemba, the IPM and “dudu house” Supervisor.
Then comes the equally sensitive task of moving the flowers. In one of the most elaborate green projects, the company has since 2011 been using a cable flower bucket transport system to move flowers from greenhouses to the cold room. Being among the pioneer farms to embrace this method, the company has since halted motorized system a move that has enhanced the environment protection, logistic easiness of transporting the stems from the greenhouses after harvest to the cold stores. The end result has been improved quality of flowers since the time they are to be in water is reduced to four minutes.
To tame post-harvest water wastage that eats up into majority of farm’s budgets, Red Lands Roses has been the first to install a modern ultrafiltration purification system that employs a membrane to purify all the water from the farm which allows re usage for harvest water and proper disinfection.
The savings on water and preservative are massive considering the need to frequently change the commodity as cut flowers require feeding on high quality water for shelf-live and sanitation. At the heart of such groundbreaking innovations and world class produce is a workforce that Mr. Spindler says has shaped the course and destiny of the farm. “Our greatest asset in this farm is our staff. We have invested in their trainings and welfare because we strongly believe that they are the engine that oils this company’s growth. It is a nucleus where we rely on each other to steer the company forward and we are proud of the quality of produce we have and the many hands that go into making that possible,” he added.