This year's lovely spring - with no hail, frost, or excessive precipitation - ensured good flowering and high soft fruit yields at Berrybrothers in the Netherlands. "We have access to plenty of good quality fruit," says Nijs van Zuilen. All the more of a pity that this week's extreme heat caused some damage. "A day like Tuesday is about 10°C too warm for the berries."
"We'll only be able to assess the damage at the end of the week properly, but some of the fruit was scorched. With redcurrants, this was particularly in the upper part of the bush, but we'll also have to 'pick' the raspberries 'clean' in the coming days. It's only the blackberries that weren't damaged - we grow those in a state-of-the-art greenhouse where the fruit wasn't affected," says the grower.
Nijs did not let his workers harvest the fruit on Tuesday. "You can't do that when it's 38 degrees." The soft fruit season has been underway for a while. "In early May, we started harvesting the Dutch redcurrants, raspberries, and blackberries. Sales are going well this year. Our company has always done good business in the local market with supermarkets, wholesalers, and exporters. These days, exports are a bit low because many neighboring countries have their own production. Then it's great to have a good base on the local market."
"The excellent quality means sales to Dutch retailers remain high. That's for redcurrants, raspberries, and blackberries. Everyone has brought their blueberry harvests forward because of the good spring. So, the different varieties overlap each other. I think our blueberry harvest will be over by mid-August," says Nijs.
A new development is that Berrybrothers is focusing more on off-season soft fruit. They do this partly through their own cultivation in the summer, which they supplement with imported blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries in the winter. "There's a twofold reason for this."
"On the one hand, our customers wanted to be relieved of their burden of top-quality soft fruit all year. On the other hand, it gives us year-round work for our employees. We've achieved all of this thanks to good contacts with selected partner growers in South America and Southern Europe," Nijs explains.
Berrybrothers is not yet struggling to find enough production staff. "Our advantage is that soft fruit isn't strenuous work, and if you can offer good facilities and housing, people will keep coming. Housing is the most important thing for our seasonal laborers. After all, they need a proper place to sleep."
"That's why we're happy that after years of preparation, we've begun building our migrant worker housing. We can house 200 people on our property. Construction must be completed before the 2023 season. This is a crucial step for our future business operations," Nijs continues.
This soft fruit grower has another new item - an upgraded redcurrant storage crate. "It has slightly higher sides with somewhat better airflow. We hope this will further improve the redcurrants' quality during long storage. We also continue to develop ourselves in the area of automation. For example, we've implemented an automated weighing system. Also, we're considering using robots to set up and take down the crates even more efficiently and ergonomically," Nijs concludes.