"Look, this flower has been pollinated, because you can see very small dots here." When Mario Coremans enters the strawberry greenhouse, he immediately looks at the flowers to see how the pollinating is going. Since 2012, he has been renting his bee populations to growers of soft fruit to pollinate their plants. His bees are also buzzing around the brand new strawberry greenhouse of De Ruwenberg B.V. in Etten-Leur (Netherlands).
Piece of the puzzle
The profession of beekeeper probably conjures up the image of a middle-aged man filling jars with honey while the bees buzz around them, but Mario does not quite match this image. Selling honey is not his thing. Mario: "The beekeeping sector consists of various branches, such as honey production, selling products, education and information or pollination. I solely focus on pollination. It is a piece of the puzzle in the production of delicacies: soft fruit. I think that is really cool."
In the strawberry greenhouse, the moment has come for the Elsanta plants to flower, and they need to be pollinated. Mario is very busy bringing his bee colonies to growers. "In spring, I am growing queens to expand the colonies and keep the breeds pure. Now, I am mostly a representative. My bees are ready to get buzzy. It is six weeks of hard work for the bees. In the summer, I am the beekeeper who restores the bee colonies."
Over his head, green bee hives are mounted from which bees fly in and out. The hives look neat, because quality is important for the young beekeeper. "I do this by not only supplying correctly and on time, but I also provide purebred bees which properly do their work. A grower really benefits from proper pollination. Bumblebees sometimes cause misshapen fruits because they also pollinate when the plant is not ready yet, but bees are much more precise. The temperature, the CO2 levels, the light spectrum, and the nectar of the flowers. A bee only gets to work when all factors are right. This result is good quality fruits."
Bees can also do their work under LED lighting. Mario: "The light recipe sometimes has to be adjusted, because bees do not see the red light, they are not bothered much and the sunlight guides their way back to the flowers and the hive."
Ageing and expanding
A grower can choose between a large assortment of cultivation registration systems, Mario has to maintain his business digitally by himself. "The sector has been stuck in the 1980s. My grandfather's generation had a lot of beekeepers, but my father's generation seems to have skipped beekeeping. Within ten years, only half of the current number of beekeepers will be left."
It is not just ageing that gives Mario opportunities to expand the company, but also expansions in greenhouse horticulture. Mario: "The cultivation of soft fruit in greenhouses is increasing. For years it has been known that bees can play a large role in pollination, but where a grower can get those bees, is not as well known. The beekeeping sector is now facing the modernization which other sectors underwent ten years ago. The market value of proper pollination in the European strawberry cultivation is still about 1.05 billion euros per year."
Bees had Mario's interest since he was a boy. Both his grandfathers worked as beekeepers. When he was eleven, he started taking care of two bee colonies, and when he, as part of his education at the HAS, could set up a company, he seriously started Imkerij Coremans. Now, he has 430 bee colonies which he rents to fruit growers - clients all across the country.