On the way home from the group trip Fides hosted in South Africa (page 108), I spent two days visiting growers in Holland and Germany. I had the pleasure of spending an entire day with Ike Vlielander, who has devoted his career to breeding kalanchoes for Fides and helping growers succeed with their crops. In addition to visiting three Dutch growers who built their businesses on kalanchoes, we got up bright and early to visit the Flora Holland auction, which merged with the other large auction house in Aalsmeer this year.
Inspired early on by legendary breeder Claude Hope, who had also worked with kalanchoe, Vlielander has introduced more than 160 varieties including the double-flowered Calandivas, which won six international awards in 2004. “When you think back 32 years ago, about 1 million kalanchoes were sold at the auction and grown from seed,” he says. “Now 100 million kalanchoe plants are sold. So we did something good together with the growers.”
Fides’ headquarters is in Naaldwijk, which is part of the Westland east of Delft in between the Hague and Rotterdam. “In the Westland, six villages make up the heart of the European glasshouse industry,” Vlielander says. “There used to be 10,000 growers here. Now there are 4,000. The nurseries remaining are getting bigger.”
Proximity to the auction also brings advantages. “There’s a saying that if you can see that tower from your greenhouse, your prices will be the best, especially compared to growers outside the Westland,” he says. “Logistically, the auction is so close, you can fill orders fast.”
On The Auction Block
Flora Holland, which is gearing up for a big expansion, spans nearly 8 million square feet and has the equivalent of 20 football fields in cold storage. It has 3,000 employees who facilitate sales for 6,000 growers and 4,000 active buyers ranging from small shopkeepers to exporters. An average of 7 million euros worth of floral products are sold each day, reaching 1.9 billion euros a year.
All the leading floral distributors and exporters have offices on site. About 60 percent of the sales are processed outside the auction clock to exporters, who bill through the auction. Supermarkets and large retailers tend to buy this way in large volumes. There also is an onsite outlet for smaller buyers to purchase a wide spectrum of plants and floral supplies wholesale.
The auction also protects the industry by monitoring and promoting high quality standards. This is one reason floral auctions are very successful in Holland and not in other countries, where growers tend to send lesser material. “Here, that’s not allowed,” Vlielander says. “If it’s rubbish, forget about it. There are too many growers here. If you destroy your own quality, forget about it. Growers throw away stuff they think is not good enough for the auction. It hurts their reputation, their name.”
Fresh cut flowers and plant material are staged in carts by product category before the auction and then sorted by buyer in a buffer area after the auction. Hundreds of employees zoom around lining up each buyer’s order in “streets.” Rows with a green light are ready to go. From the overlooking catwalk, Vlielander says, “This hall looks like an ant heap, but don’t be deceived. This system is very organized and efficient.”
Growing Markets Together
Since Dutch growers are true mono-culture crop specialists, this provides a unique opportunity for a breeder to work closely with growers to build and create markets, perfect production practices, breed varieties for specific sizes and conditions, and develop products that are completely new.
We visited two operations owned by brothers who specialize in kalanchoes but serve different niches.
Younger brother Jan van Luijk purchased a cut lisianthus range three years ago and installed rolling tables, automation and grading equipment for blooming potted plants. Seventy percent of his production is single-flowered kalanchoe in seven key colors and 30 percent is the double-flowered Calandiva series. With one full-time employee and a few part timers, he produces an average of 45,000 plants a week in 130,000 square feet of greenhouse space.
Older brother Fred van Luijk named his business Kwekeij de Veranda after Fides’ Veranda varieties, which are a summer crop. Today, he grows Calandivas and two unique upright varieties that are from different species in the kalanchoe family. Van Luijk is the exclusive grower for ‘Lucky Bells’ in the Netherlands and has regional exclusivity on ‘Magic Bells.’ One key retail customer is Tesco in the United Kingdom. Production is tricky for these varieties.
“The secret of ‘Lucky Bells’ is to keep it dry for at least six weeks,” Vlielander says. “It’s devastating for a grower to see because every inch of your body says it needs water, but keeping it dry keeps it compact. One week after watering, it will grow tall–just a few drops and it will shoot up. Kalanchoes in general need to start dry. When I see them watered overhead like mums, it’s like cursing in church. All over the world, I see basic rules forgotten.”
Van Luijk showed him two tables that were not in flower for no apparent reason. “So we’ve still got riddles in our crops,” Vlielander says. “I know growers don’t like it, but I love problems, finding out what’s happening and what’s the reason. After 32 years, I still find new challenges every day.”