Tholen – With 20 hectares, the Dutch Berries strawberry greenhouse was already the largest in the Netherlands when it opened in 2018, and 2 years later the company was expanded by another 4 hectares. The nursery is now equipped with 14 hectares of LED lighting to be able to supply strawberries all year round.
Boudewijn van der Wal and his son Job. Pictures www.at10.nl
around the world
“Get one more cup. Or two.” During Kom in de Kas, the open days of Dutch horticulture, the cut strawberries from Dutch Berries greenhouses in Zuilichem, Gelderland, are in great demand. The consumer also usually knows how to find the way to the nursery, as evidenced by the large vending machine that can be found in front of the business. However, Dutch Berries’ strawberries go much further out into the world: Via Veiling Zaltbommel, they go to supermarkets in the Netherlands, Norway, Germany, Belgium, England and the top segment can even be found in Japan. This is not so strange, because the company harvests an estimated 200,000,000 annually – more than 3 million kilos of strawberries. In Nieuwaal, Kreling Aardbeien, like Dutch Berries, part of the private family business GK Group, has an additional 7.5 hectares of strawberry cultivation. In total, the group has almost 50 hectares of greenhouses.
Partly thanks to such projects, the cultivation of strawberries under glass in the Netherlands has grown strongly in recent years. Commercial Director Boudewijn van der Wal, who manages Dutch Berries together with Gijbert Kreling, already told more about this growth and about the retailers’ desire for Dutch year-round strawberries. To meet that demand, the company has in recent years expanded the nursery with another 4 hectares and selected LED lighting. The Signify lamps were first hung on 4 hectares and later the lighting solution from Mechatronix was chosen on an additional 10 hectares so that they could harvest a total of 14 hectares all year round. With 3 combined heat and power plants of 8.6 MW, the lamps are supplied with energy and a blackout cloth completes the story.
This is an important development at the moment because the costs are also rising enormously in strawberry growing. The company keeps track of energy costs with pre-agreed contracts, with the LED lighting and with the solar panels: with 1,350 units, they provide their own cooling with energy. But there are several costs that are rising sharply in these years. Fertilizers and costs for substrates, for example. The company currently works with coconut and peat, which are recycled after cultivation, but it is being investigated whether the same results can be achieved with coconut that can be used for many years. Thanks to the large-scale mixing installation for the fertilizers, fully automatic, they also keep a close eye on this: The automatic container filler for liquid fertilizer and the 2nd buffer tank (5.5 million liters of water!) Give the plants a precise fertilization. The 5.5 million liter buffer tank is used to buffer the heat from the CHP plants and use it for cultivation at the right time.
Labor is also a point of attention in the company, where 240 employees are employed in the high season. In addition to the international workforce, for which Dutch Berries has a number of housing units, a large number of workers also come from the region. “The quality of the employees is also very important, especially when growing soft fruit. Strawberries are, of course, a fragile product, so we are very aware of that, “says Boudewijn. In addition, various automation solutions have been implemented in the greenhouse to keep a clear picture of the work. Thanks to lighting, the demand for labor can also spread more over the year.
Since last year, there has still been a special worker in the company: Job van der Wal, son of Boudewijn. He has worked as a junior crop manager in the company for over a year, which he already knows well from previous internships and work during the new construction. He is currently fully responsible for the cultivation of Dutch Berries.