The tomatoes from the Tomato Masters greenhouse in Belgium go straight to the retail sector. This can be done thanks to the good partnership this grower has with Coöperatie Hoogstraten. Introducing a new variety, therefore, always happens in consultation and is only happening when the product's taste, and especially its Brix level, are higher than they were.
Tomato Masters has been growing the same variety for years. Tom Vlaemynck has now decided to partially switch to growing Axia Vegetable Seeds' Speedax variety.
“An elegant TOV with a glistening color. It is perfect for fans of a slightly firmer tomato. This variety has a beautiful truss form and strong stem." The way TOVs are described by the Belgian quality label Flandria is almost poetic. These fancy words should be accompanied by nice tomatoes and in order to do so the growers of the TOVs pay a lot of attention to the quality of the tomatoes.
That's for sure done by Tomato Masters. Julien Vlaemynck founded Tomato Masters 53 years ago. His sons, Dirk, Herman, and Johan, joined the business and nowadays grandson Tom is also part of it.
Collaboration with retailers
Tomato Masters collaborates with other growers in the Tomeco group. Just as working together with Cooperatie Hoogstraten also the Tomeco partnership is important to the team. The Tomeco growers, uniting various growers associated with Cooperatie Hoogstraten, have a total of 79 hectares of tomatoes, says Johan. "We believe in the cooperative approach. Fragmentation is never a good thing. Certainly not when it comes to the supply chain - then the retail sector benefits."
“Alone, we are far too small to approach retailers. But, as Tomeco, we are large enough", he continues. "We ask which products they want on their shelves next year. They also tell us how they want the tomatoes packaged. We do all this in partnership with Coöperatie Hoogstraten. Once all the volumes the retail sector wants are known, these are divided up among the member growers. We try to have a maximum of three tomato varieties per company. This is to keep the processes as efficient as possible".
Focus on taste
“The variety we have been growing in the past years, did not deliver the highest yields," adds Tom. "High yields are not our goal - we focus very much on taste." In addition to their variety choice, their fertilization is tailored to this, and every week Novacrop Control performs a leaf analysis too. "We can make the tomatoes tastier using the correct combination of fertilizers".
This formula seems to be working. Last year, the company once again expanded its facility in Deinze. They added 5.7 hectares, bringing the total area to more than 16 hectares. Lit cultivation is done in one of the three greenhouses, and in the other two greenhouses the conventional season is followed.
Last year's expansion project. Photos by Havecon
Photos by Havecon
Flavor might top production on the priority list for Tomato Masters, but they still hope to take a step forward in their production numbers in the conventional season. They will be planting Speedax in a portion of their acreage. "To be more precise, we hope to increase the number of marketable kilos," explains Tom. "Last season, we had to deal with tearing tomato trusses. That is a significant disadvantage of the variety, especially because they tear off just before the tomatoes start to color, and in fact that's all energy you send to the compost heap directly. However, this variety remained our best option since we did not want to compromise on the product's taste or Brix level. This standard variety was strong in this and we believe Speedax not to fall behind."
Speedax in the greenhouses: Generative open crop with thick, dark green leaves, Marco van Hasenbroek shows
The resistances: HR: ToMV:0,1,2 / Ff:A-E / Va:0 / Vd:0 / Fol:0,1 / For / IR: On
On the rise in Belgium
Speedax's popularity is on the rise, at least in Belgium, says Marco van Hasenbroek with Axia Vegetable Seeds. “The Belgian market prefers high-quality tomatoes, and that's exactly what Speedax is. The popularity in Belgium stems from its high Brix level of about 4.7. The tomato also has a dark red color with strong, green parts. This certainly plays a role as well. These tomatoes look good and continue to do so even after being stored."
Marco is also familiar with the tearing Tom refers to - or rather, the non-tearing. "Speedax remains well set, even in hot weather. The quality at the moment of harvest is high, and this variety is certainly not susceptible to tearing."
“Speedax comes into production early. Production ends up somewhat higher by the end of the growing season than the standard variety being used in the segment, so that's a plus when it comes to production," he continues.
This variety has an average fruit weight of roughly 140-145 g, and jointed fruits. For six weeks during the summer, these tomatoes are pruned to six. The rest of the year, it stands at five. The plants are remarkably tall too. "This plant releases quickly - about seven to eight trusses at frame height. This characteristic means its harvesting height is still excellent," Marco concludes.
These days the team is harvesting the first kilos of their lit cultivation, a crop that started at the beginning of August.
This kind of cultivation used to put pressure on the early season for Spain. However, Johan is not concerned about that this year. "We saw in the media that, this winter, the Spanish have a smaller than usual tomato acreage."
"Spain is not only feeling the pressure from Morocco and Turkey. They are feeling it from European lit cultivation too. Revenues from lit cultivation are much higher than from the unlit Spanish cultivation. That means a lot of growers switched to cucumbers and bell peppers this winter."
Cubelo tomatoes, ready to leave
Brexit and ToBRFV
One of the inevitable topics to discuss these days for growers is Brexit. The team with Tomato Masters: “We do not supply any products to England. We are, however, curious to see how Brexit will turn out. The tomatoes that usually go to the UK may end up on our market. This surplus will certainly put the prices under pressure. But, for now, we can only wait and see what the outcome will be."
“We are less concerned about viruses. We take all the necessary precautions in our greenhouses to prevent these. But we are in a good location. There is not that much glasshouse horticulture here in East Flanders. This reduces the chance of infection by birds or insects considerably. You get entire glasshouse villages in the Netherlands. The risk is much higher there than here," adds Johan.
TOV with Carrefour's KKC label of quality
Tomato Masters is both GlobalGAP and KKC certified. "To us this mark of quality from Carrefour carries far more weight than GlobalGAP", Johan says. "All the TOV in Belgian Carrefour stores come from Tomato Masters. We also supply some of Delhaize and Meat and More (formerly Buurtslagers)'s products."
Currently the Belgian tomato consumption remains stable. This is so, in spite of the effort being made to increase it. "Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable. It is followed by carrots. But we are still not seeing a growth in consumption. Belgium can learn something from Greece. There, people eat dozens of kgs of tomatoes a year. In Belgium, this consumption is only in single figures," concludes Johan.
The Cubelo tomato