This winter Bas and Ton van Leeuwen of Kwekerij Westburg will again regularly travel to Morocco. For the second season they are participating in a Moroccan nursery to provide their Eurpoean customers with cherry and mini plum tomatoes year-round.
Bas and Ton van Leeuwen of Kwekerij Westburg started with their Moroccan project last year. The brothers are participating in a 25 hectares nursery in northern Morocco. Bas: "This year we started five weeks later. We’ve continued in the Netherlands one week longer and would like to see our own production and the Moroccan supply follow each other smoothly." Also, last year they saw that a later start could result in a better and higher winter production. In consultation with ZON fruit & vegetables it was therefore decided to push the season forward a bit. Corne van Winsen from ZON: "Last year the production level in January was low while the price, which normally peaks for Christmas, only then rose to a higher level.” Bas adds: “We have now adjusted our planting schedule. We combine planting later with active pruning. This year we can take steps towards this."
The Westburg men learned from their first year not only in terms of seasonal build-up, organizationally they are also taking it further this year. "We were already very strict on quality and residue. Last season we took additional samples from each vehicle and each load achieved the highest standards. This year we are trying to get production up and finetune our organization. You can’t establish Dutch efficiency there in one go, and we certainly don’t want to be walking around like the all-knowing Dutchman. But these are focal points for this year."
The nursery in Morocco. Stronger cooling was installed in order to cool product down faster and directly place it in the truck at the correct temperature.
In Morocco, yellow cherry tomatoes and red and orange baby plum tomatoes are grown. Bas: "Colors are less set in Spain and Morocco this year. The varieties are more difficult to grow, the product is more difficult to transport. Also, prices have been less favorable compared to loose round. Colors do particularly well in mix packages, with the right customers."
The best part of doing business in Morocco? For Bas it is the 'tea house' feel. "The culture, the cordiality. Like in the past: talking with your colleagues at the auction. About anything."
Dutch product normally has to be fought for in spring and autumn. How do they deal with this at ZON? Isn’t Moroccan production a competitor for their Dutch tomatoes? Corne: "There are customers who switch to Dutch product as soon as possible, but also customers who plan their programs in advance and continue with the Moroccan product until a certain week.” Currently the entire Moroccan supply has been pre-allocated. "But we can always switch to customers located further away." In addition, the end of the season in Morocco is determined in a different way. Bas: "For the Moroccan sector there is usually a point after which they know that prices only decline. Production is improving and the plant comes out of hibernation, so stopping doesn’t feel natural, but prices are dropping. So, because of transport, each load only costs money.” The local market has no use for the small stuff. "They buy it when they see it, but it is actually unknown and too expensive. Here mainly loose round and plum tomatoes are brought to market."
Moroccan product may be supplied to Russia even if traded through the Netherlands. And certainly now that the Turkish border is closing, the Russian market is becoming more attractive for Moroccan tomato growers. Bas: "We won’t get into that. We have started this to supply our customers year-round. We want to stick to that."