MG: Can you please give us a background of your business?
Highland is a newly formed company managed by a group of experienced agriculture engineers, agronomists and an entrepreneur, with a plan to disrupt the local strawberry industry. The mission is to invest in world class facilities, implement best-in-class SOP’s and execute a comprehensive IPM system that delivers a premium strawberry that is consistent in both quality and flavor. With the city of Madaba (aka) Mosaic-capital-of-Jordan being the location of the farms, it provides a backdrop of magnificent culture and abundance of mosaic ruins. The area is is chosen for its rich soil, open landscape and availability of replenishable high quality water. Our aim is to fully transform into sustainable hydroponic farming by 2024. Sustainability and water management is a very important element of our business operations, especially coming from a country designated as extremely water poor. We consider water management and supply as as critical component to our livelihood and the future of our children.
Being the Jordan Licensee of the new University of California Varieties, Highland aims to create a new partnership with all local strawberry growers. Our plan is to assist the growers with advanced farm management knowhow and train them on sustainability and post-harvest quality procedures. This is in addition to providing them with high quality strawberry plants of the new California varieties that far exceed in yield, firmness and flavor all other strawberry varieties grown in Jordan. The plan is supported by GPG the global master license holders for the UCD varieties; UCD Royal Royce, UCD Moxie, UCD Valiant, UCD Victor and UCD Warrior, who continuously provide us with exceptional expertise from plant to fruit.
Harvest season starts in November and lasts until June of every year. Our fresh berries are transported rapidly to the pack house for cooling using the latest post harvest pre-cooling technologies. The berries are then checked for quality, weighed, packaged and labelled. The palletized goods packed using multiple packages according to the client and are then shipped by Air or land all this while maintaining a closed cold supply chain.
By working with our Fresh Direct Approach you are guaranteed a quality, safe, produce, a reliable partner who supports the livelihoods of over 1,000 rural households.
MG: Where do you see the UCD varieties fitting into the Jordanian market?
Since 20 years we have been growing US and other strawberry varieties and they have all shown great success in Jordans climate. Since last year we started growing the new UCD varieties and they have been outstanding in all aspects. With the vigorous and high yielding character, the new UCD varieties will help Jordan growers fill the gap of cost to revenue formula where labour and other costs have been rising and putting much pressure on the farmers. The new varieties offer sweetness, a crispy bite and a range of berry sizes to cater to different tastes. The local clients are attracted to the size of the berry which UCD varieties all have. So we see big potential for these new varieties to fulfill the middle-astern appeal for attractive and big berries.
MG: What are the highlights of the UCD program for you?
Since this is still a new program for us and we are continuously profiling the varieties, many of the variety characteristics are challenging our traditional knowledge of the plants response to weather and climate. We have come to realize the vitality and robustness of the varieties. When other varieties fail due to high temperature the new UCD varieties have kicked in and have shown resilience to fight back and restart. This varies between the varieties but all in all we are confident the varieties have much to offer due to their strong genetics.
MG: Are there any specific comments and/or feedback that you have on any of the varieties?
I believe each variety has a unique profile and will benefit the farmer in both expanding the harvest window as well producing bigger returns to them. Our objective is to create an advantage to the farmer in supporting his work by reducing the effort needed to maintain strawberry plants. These varieties help us doing exactly that. Both the Royal Royce and Victor produce much less runners during fruiting and focus on producing berries. This make the farmers life much easier and reduces cost of managing runners during harvest. In the winter months Valiant as a Neutral Day, is a heavy producer with fantastic sugar to acid ratio which we believe will be an attractive buying point for well established customers and supermarkets. Victor, on the other starts slow but makes up in record yield and size after end January. Royal Royce produces consistent yield of firm and homogeneous berries.
MG: Are there any points of difference you will be offering growers from a service perspective?
We will continue to offer the farm as a showcase for all interested and potential growers. As part of the expansion plan this year we will be investing in a raised nursery propagation scheme to lower the cost of the nursery which will lower the cost of plant sale to the farmer. This season we intend to propagate part of the nursery under tunnel which would lower the use of water by 35% and create stronger plants. By removing the direct sunlight exposure, the plants are less stressed and divert their energy to the root system which creates strong plants. Strong plants makes happy farmers as they become big berry producers!
MG: Would you like to comment on the future of the varieties and the opportunities they might bring?
The new UCD varieties that have shown higher yield, more tolerance to diseases, better firmness and flavor qualities will disrupt the world of strawberries which will have a positive impact on farmers and the end user. I think the team at UCD have really outdone themselves in creating these spectacular new varieties. We are also extremely happy with our relationship with Team GPG - the International Master licensee who have supported us from the start by providing sources of material and fulfilled every request we’ve had. They have a professional and highly experienced team, whom we look forward to working closely with on all the future strawberry varieties they represent, as well as the other outstanding berries genetics under their management.
MG: Are there any other comments you would like to bring the varieties, your business and/or about the Egyptian market?
I believe the new UCD Varieties will be a success in every country that previously grew strawberries. One thing to note that while the initial costs of acquiring the strawberries variety licenses is costly, the return is worth the investment. Still to make this investment sustainable and not loose value, licensee in every country should maintain their jurisdiction and protect the IP of any illegal trade. Illegal cross border flow of strawberry plants will create a chaotic market eventually hurt the brand and its value.
MG: Would you like to share any client feedback?
All the responses from our clients have been overwhelming positive. Most of the farmers who have trialled the varieties will be ordering new plants next year. We expect tremendous demand for the years to come.
Thank you Abdallah Al Tayeh for this interview opportunity. For more information regarding the UCD Royal Royce, UCD Moxie, UCD Valiant, UCD Victor and UCD Warrior or any other varieties in our crop portfolio, please email us at email@example.com