A few years ago, four Belgian tomato growers joined forces. They set up the Tomeco partnership. This clustering - which falls under the Hoogstraten Cooperative - now has eight production locations, which together totals 79 hectares.
"We have grown tremendously in these last few years. This is why we had to expand our sorting and packaging center. We were at capacity in the existing packaging warehouse. We could not grow. Currently, we have far more capacity. It is possible for us, as individual growers, to expand. We could even attract new members," says Tom Lefevre of Hortipower. He is one of Tomeco's members.
“We need the Hoogstraten Cooperative”
“Tomeco's goal is not to be the biggest. We want to grow together through knowledge sharing. We do several things jointly, such as purchasing materials and sales. In this way, we, as horticulturalists, are unburdened. We can focus on our products' production process and quality," says Tom.
In spite of these joint activities, the Hoogstraten Cooperative is still of great importance for these farmers. "We do sort and package our own products. But the Hoogstraten Cooperative is the most knowledgeable when it comes to sales. That is why we chose not to sell our products ourselves. We are merely a part of the Cooperative, providing support services."
It is difficult for Belgian farmers to expand their glasshouse production. This is also the case in the Netherlands. "In Belgium, it is certainly not easy to enlarge your production locations. However, expansion does not necessarily have to mean building something new. At Tomeco, there is a great combination. We can grow, as individual farmers, as well as attract new growers," Lefevre continues.
"I think that, in the future, joining forces will only become more important. It is tough to keep everything in the chain in order. This is not going to get any easier, either. That is why we are always looking for new partners. We want to grow in the areas our clients demand from us."
In total, almost 50% of Tomeco is lit cultivation. "A part of this is also LED-lit cultivation. We can, therefore, provide products to our clients all year long. This partnership also allows us to stagger when we plant. This practice ensures there are no gaps in production."
"Last year's prices for lit cultivated tomatoes were disappointing. However, we still have faith in this cultivation method," says Tom. “We rely on demand from our clients. We, as growers, decide together, what is to be done. Our goal is to be a high-quality service provider through cooperation. We want to offer added value to the Cooperative and our clients."