He grew bell peppers for twenty years, then six years of sweet pointed peppers, but switched to biological cultivation. Now cultivation switches from bell pepper to tomato, to cucumber and eggplant in Peter Bartels’ greenhouse. “I thought to make it into retirement by growing sweet pointed peppers, but it turned out differently.”
The switch to biological cultivation in 2016 was no surprise to Peter. “I had been entertaining the thought to grow biologically for years. In my early years I regularly visited biological companies. But the main problem was that there are no economical calculations that show the consequences of switching to biological cultivation. Your company is your living, so it is a difficult decision
After growing bell peppers for years, he considered making the switch to biological cultivation in 2009. Times were hard for the bell pepper. The prices were low and the energy expensive. When I was offered to grow sweet pointed peppers, I took the opportunity. I had thought to make it to retirement with sweet pointed peppers, but it turned out differently. A virus made me turn to a different cultivation, and I came to another crossroad. This time I made the step to biological cultivation."
On Thursday August 23, Proefcentrum Groenteteelt organized a company visit to Barver bvba, the company of Peter and his wife Riet. Peter explained to growers how he experienced the transfer to biological. Peter: “It took quite some time with me, so I understand the questions of growers that want to make the switch, but haven’t done so yet. Anyway, growing on soil is not for everyone. Many of the modern companies have been built for substrate cultivation. The underground is not important, and therefore not per se suitable for cultivation. Moreover, biological cultivation is still a black hole with regard to figures. I can only speak from experience.”
Joy of labor
According to Peter, the production costs are the same as in regular cultivation, but the production itself is reduced to two-thirds. “The labor is a bit more intensive, but that is part of the game. We sort tomatoes and bell peppers by hand. We do have a sorting machine for cucumbers, but in general it is labor intensive.”
With regard to pesticides the biological cultivation is not that much different from regular cultivation according to Peter. “In the 26 years I have been growing bell peppers, I had to spray minimally. We provide plenty of biological deterrents against harmful insect and red spider mite. It is a problem that conventional methods are not available in case things go wrong. You do not have an emergency break. But also in this you try to find a proper balance, just like a regular grower.” Peter never regretted his decision. “The cultivation rotation provides a lot of change, and that has increased the joy of labor.”
Looking for perfectionists
At the moment, Peter is working closely with two other biological growers. “We discuss who is going to grow which crop, and complement each other well. When one of the growers could not grow tomatoes, we transferred our cucumber cultivation to him, and took over his tomato cultivation. In the end it is the auction that also determines what we grow in our greenhouses. We see the trade in biological products grow, and we have to grow along in the same manner. For the auction it is important that they have an assortment with which they can meet the demands of the customer. For the production this means there is a need of biological growers. Good growers that can produce a high quality product. Biological tomatoes have to look just as good as from regular cultivation. We need perfectionists.
Photos: Proefcentrum Groenteteelt
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