Family company Kwekerij Mulders combines the production of tomatoes and blueberries. An odd combination? Gert Mulders of the eponymous company doesn’t think so. “My parents started with the production of tomatoes 30 years ago. We started with three hectares of tomatoes, but we couldn’t expand our greenhouse production due to our location. That’s why we decided to find another production at the time, and we ended up with blueberries.”
“Kempen only had two blueberry growers at that time, and in consultation with Coöperatie Hoogstraten – where we sell our tomatoes as well – we started the production of blueberries. At the site of our tomato greenhouses, we also grow a variety of early blueberries on substrate. At the other site, we have 1.7 hectares of blueberries in total, and we can supply these from early July to early October.”
Not a lot of Southern European product on the market
“We just started the first harvest of the early blueberry varieties. Prices are good, but are currently declining somewhat. Not a lot of volumes from Southern Europe are available now, which is positive for the Belgian blueberries. In the past period, we had some hail, but our production is completely protected. Because everything’s completely covered, we can guarantee a better quality and harvest throughout the season. All of our berries are picked by hand, so they retain their down. Down is a sign of freshness,” Gert explains.
“When the berries start to colour early in July, the bird nets are put in place again as well. We also have a high pole with a falcon’s nest. These make sure the other birds stay away. People love blueberries, but birds can’t stay away from them either. Besides, we’re completely equipped with an automatic irrigation installation that provides our plants with the right nutrients at the same time. That’s how we’re trying to optimise quality and flavour. In the busy periods, we have quite a bit of harvesting to do. We have a good team of about 30 people for that.”
After a bad period on the tomato market, prices started rising again towards 80 cent about two weeks ago. Prices are currently dropping again, and they’re now at a price level of 64 cent. “But we don’t know what the market will do. Last week, there was a lot of demand from France. They bought everything in one week, but that has now stopped again,” Gert says. Kwekerij Mulders grows Elite vine tomatoes. “We also grow a few rows of snack tomatoes, but we sell these in our vending machine. Belgium has Elite and Princess tomatoes. We specifically chose Elite, because these have a better colour, and its flavour is a bit more refined.”
Kwekerij Mulders recently started Local Harvest with four other blueberry growers from the Kempen region, and their slogan is ‘No Food Waste.’ “At the end of the harvest, we freeze the smaller and unsellable berries, to process them into fruit juice, wine and other products at a later time. We want to offer our products year-round, our main goal being to decrease waste flows. We also sell at our locations. Both locations have vending machines for tomatoes and blueberries. Our locations are close to a bicycle route, and more and more cyclists know how to find our vending machines,” Gert concludes.