Ametller: build an agricultural city with 180 million euros

Demonstrating that the transition to a healthier and more sustainable world is possible is the obsession of Josep Ametller, the youngest of five brothers and continuator of the family business: working the land and marketing what comes out of it. It started twenty years ago with a stop at the Vilafranca del Penedès market, which he set up with his brother Jordi. They now have 120 Ametller Origen establishments in Catalonia, more than 3,000 workers and an agri-food project that they hope to turn into a benchmark for sustainability and circular economy. It is the Agroparc del Penedès, 258 hectares distributed between the Catalan municipalities of Gelida and Sant Llorenç d’Hortons where the Ametller brothers want to update what they experienced as children in the family farmhouse, where everything was reused.

To make it possible, first, they have needed to obtain all the administrative permits and, later, add 180 million euros, which they plan to obtain through their own resources, the contribution of partners such as Agbar and Carburos Metálicos, financing from the European Investment Bank and whatever they can get from the ‘Next Generation’ funds. The Ametller group closed 2021 with a turnover of more than 380 million.

Fruit trees, farms, technified greenhouses and photovoltaic panels will coexist in the Agroparc. It will be irrigated with three types of water: rainwater, reused and groundwater, which will accumulate in ponds and will allow them to be self-sufficient and dose the water used. Thus, according to his calculations, For every kilo of tomatoes they produce, they will be able to save 51 liters of water.

In addition, they want to use organic waste from farms, fields and industry to produce renewable energy in the form of biogas. They will separate the CO2 and use it to feed the plants in the greenhouses. Technified greenhouses where the light, heat, growth level and organoleptic quality of the crops are controlled through technology. They cost about 2 million euros each but can multiply production by six.

The main obstacle that those responsible for the company are encountering is locating professionals with training in technified agriculture, artificial intelligence and ‘machine learning’. Wageningen University, located in a region known as the ‘food valley’ in the Netherlands, is one of the few specialized in these studies.

Precisely because of this lack, Ametller has decided to include a training and research center in the project, in agreement with local and international universities to instruct “the agricultural technicians of the future”. “If we wanted to put the greenhouses into operation today -they indicate-, we would have to bring all the technicians from Holland”. SMEs such as Brots d’Or, Can Bech, Cultius Ecològics del Vallès or Mun Ferments will also settle around the research center.

Traceability from start to finish

The digital registration of everything that comes out of the Agroparc will be another of the differentiating factors of this cluster. With it, it will be possible to follow the traceability from the moment the product is planted until it reaches the final customer. The finished goods will be transported in vehicles powered by biofuel created from the organic waste generated and with which it is intended to avoid the emission of 1,400 tons of CO2 per year, that is, the equivalent of 78 trips around the world by plane.

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This transport fleet will return to the cluster loaded with containers for recycling. And it is that the Ametller Origen establishments will also become a selective waste collection point. The ultimate goal is to be the first energy positive and CO2 negative district. The operation is completed with 12 hectares of photovoltaic panels and a farm with some 400 sheep and 400 goats.

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With the established deadlines, and with “the good reception that the project has had by all the administrations”, Ametller Origen hopes to be able to start moving land to plant fruit trees between October and November of this year and from then on to move forward. “The pace of development will be marked by the level of funding that is achieved,” they explain.

The economic impact of the Agroparc in the area is estimated at 433 million euros, with the creation of some 3,100 jobs, both direct and indirect. “A place where things are round like a tomato, not for the pleasure of being so, but because they have been produced in a circular way”, is reported in the project by the Ametller brothers.

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