Dick Breugem and his father used to grow tomatoes in the Netherlands until the site was rezoned for housing development. Because their company is a customer of Van Iperen, where they used to buy liquid fertilizers, Dick was well acquainted with former technical specialist Martien Melissant, who told Dick about a vacancy at Van Iperen. Dick applied and got the job, and in May 2001, he started at Van Iperen. Now, over 20 years later, Dick looks ahead and reflects on the last 20 years in an article on the Van Iperen website.
Dick remembers his job interview well. "At that time, Van Iperen was located in a couple of normal houses. I had an interview with three directors; two wore suits and one a plaid shirt. It was a good conversation, and I got the job."
In the early days, Breugem worked with Martien Melissant, a horticultural fertilizer specialist, and he has seen the company grow tremendously since. "We started with just the two of us, but now we have six horticultural fertilizer specialists." The work has also changed in recent years. "There's more administrative work than there used to be. We also visit customers and give advice, after which we have to calculate schedules. There's also more mail traffic."
Dick covers a large area. "I regularly visit Groningen, Friesland, Drenthe, and Overijssel. These used to be a Horticoop dealer's areas, but since that company merged with Van Iperen, fellow fertilizer specialists also visit these areas. Former relations at Horticoop are now my co-workers." By now, Dick has made it to senior technical specialist. "Maybe that has to do with my gray hair," he jokes.
It is not only the work but horticulture as a whole that has changed. "Companies are getting bigger and more professional, and growers need to start growing more sustainably. I'm presently involved in an ion-specific cultivation project, with which clients can analyze water samples on-site. This method lets them switch faster in regards to fertilizer, which stabilizes the crop's nutrition. That, in turn, reduces having to discharge drain water, and it's better for the plant, too, as it needs less energy to absorb a stable nutrient composition. Ion-specific cultivation is ideal when using liquid fertilizers. In order to assist them in using this fertilizer optimally, I brainstorm schedules for our customers," explains Breugem.
Van Iperen is the Dutch dealer of Greenswitch Original, the first sustainable, high-quality nitrate fertilizer. It is made from liquid manure developed by sister company Van Iperen International. The production process is virtually CO2 neutral. "This manure is excellent for use in horticulture. I get clients excited about it because it aids more sustainable cultivation."
Dick expects to see more sustainable products in the future. "These are needed because cultivation must become greener, and the horticultural sector must reduce its carbon footprint. I think there'll also be, say, green nitric acid, which could serve as a raw material for other sustainable fertilizers."
A lot of know-how is needed to switch to entirely green cultivation. "Van Iperen is leading the way, but to stay in the lead, you have to keep innovating. There are still growers who are becoming greener only limitedly because they cannot pass the increase in cost price on. However, with knowledge and good products, you can convince this group."
Van Iperen's expansion is due to its technical support base; selling resources then follows automatically. "I believe this approach will remain important. The question of how we can help clients with their cultivation must remain central, not which products we can sell. In my view, only then do customer relationships have prospects too," Dick concludes.
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