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"Willem-Jan Coolbergen: "Growth came when machines left"

Coolbergen and Cornelissen have been growing radish in Italy for 15 years

It has been fifteen years since the radish growers Coolbergen and Cornelissen started Ortolanda: a radish cultivation in Borgo Grappa, a small place south of Rome. Willem-Jan Coolbergen has day to day control of the nursery, which started on an area of 3 hectares and has grown to 25 hectares of own cultivation over the years. This winter, up to 60 hectares of radish has been sown, through using greenhouses belonging to fellow growers. 

"The goal at the start was to come onto the market with a large production at a moment of scarcity. With cheaper buildings and a large surface in the Latina area, we want to obtain a higher production in the winter, for attractive prices, to then take it easier in the months of April to October," says Willem-Jan. "Of course we are dependent on the weather conditions. This season started dramatically, because it is far too warm in Europe. If it isn't freezing there, we will have a problem. In our sales countries such as Germany and Austria they are still harvesting open ground radish at the moment, whereas they finished that in October last year."

There were the necessary lessons in those fifteen years. "When we started out in Italy, we soon decided to harvest with machines. This cultivation here with more extreme climate differences wasn't made for this. The growth is less controlled, we had to harvest more coarsely and came onto the market with a product the customer wasn't asking for. We then sent the machines back to the Netherlands and started harvesting courser bunches with fewer radishes. We then got large supermarkets in and the company has grown with the demand," says Willem-Jan.

In 2014 sustainable soil improvement was invested in for the first time with bio fumigation. The fruits of this are being harvested during the top pressure of the 2014-2015 winter season: the cultivations were very successful. This led Ortolanda to decide to apply solarization of the soil with green manure again in 2015. "It is an intensive cultivation, but we can make the soil stronger and richer for the cultivation in the winter with this," says Willem-Jan.

"We tried the cultivation of lettuce here too, but stopped again. We are radish growers in heart and soul and want to be a specialist all year round," says Willem-Jan. Thirty percent of the Ortolanda production remains in Italy, the rest goes to Northern Europe, mainly Germany. "The size of our company isn't as important. We want to be flexible and not be dependent on one buyer."

"With the Cornelissen and Coolbergen companies in the Netherlands and Ortolanda in Italy we are a real trinity. The contacts with the other radish growers are good here in the Latina area and we meet up," says Willem-Jan. "Last year the businesspeople started a cooperation under the name Ortolanda O.P. Soc. Coop. Agricola. Multiple growers are part of this and the sales are organised by the own cooperation themselves."

For more information:
Ortolanda Agricola Soc. Agricola Arl.
Via Migliara 45 No 156A
04100 Borgo Grappa (LT)
Tel: +39 0773 209087
Fax: +39 0773 209317
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