In the Netherlands, the late spring affected BerryBrothers' soft fruit production. "Last year, we started harvesting greenhouse redcurrants as early as the beginning of May. Now, we won't start until early next week, so two weeks later," begins Nijs van Zuilen. "The farm workers were especially inconvenienced by the cool, wet weather in March and April. They couldn't make progress. The redcurrants began blooming in mid-April, and then it's all hands on deck, but managing that took extra effort this year."
Last Chilean berries sold this week
"We sold the last redcurrants from Chile this week. The Dutch redcurrant season is starting later, so we sold a bit more Chilean volume than in other years. It was a good import season. We ended the Dutch stored berries season in early April. With all our investments, I expect we'll keep extending the Dutch storage season in the future, increasingly decreasing the Chilean berries' room. I'm not ruling out the possibility that next year, we'll reach late April with refrigerated berries," Nijs says.
BerryBrothers has recently invested heavily in modernizing its cultivation. For example, almost all their redcurrants are grown in containers (pots). "That's quite an innovative way to grow redcurrants, which are still mostly cultivated in open fields. But, with this cultivation method, we have even more specific control of water and nutrition."
Continued innovation with redcurrants
The company is also putting more and more effort into new varieties, and that is not just their latest acquisitions. "We want to look further than the Junifer and Rovada. We're, for instance, retesting redcurrant varieties that were written off roughly 40 years ago. With the changing weather, it could just be that the varieties that failed then could give excellent results now," Nijs explains.
Blueberry cultivation is also in good shape at the soft fruit farm. "We've had no frost, and the plants are flowering tremendously. Again, I expect the harvest to start about ten days later than usual. The season in the Netherlands is quite short - about ten weeks - and takes place when every European country is producing berries."
"So, I'm pleased that most of our blueberries find their way to Dutch retailers, which is where our future for the coming years lies. People increasingly want local products, and once we've harvested the berries, they reach store shelves no more than three days later. You can't get any fresher," says Van Zuilen.
BerryBrothers completes the Dutch flag of berries with white currants. "A niche product that fits our assortment very well. We harvest these in mid-July, and they're placed in cold storage just like the redcurrants. We expanded the acreage a bit to one hectare. It remains a small item, but our export customers, especially in the wholesale and hospitality segment, specifically ask for it. This lets them offer their clients something exclusive, after all."
Last week, the cultivation company started harvesting the season's first blackberries at its Betuwe site in Zoelmond.
There Gijs and Teun van Zuilen (pictured right) are increasingly taking over from their father, Albert. "The season will last until late October/early November," says Nijs.
"Since last season, we've bet heavily on the Sweet Royalla variety, characterized by a good flavor. We grow these in a state-of-the-art plastic tunnel, so we can keep extreme weather conditions like rain and heat out."
"There's plenty of market demand for tasty blackberries. Unfortunately, people often still get a nasty surprise from a sour berry or seed. But there's lots of potential for early to late good quality blackberry varieties from early to late season. Though there's market demand for good quality products throughout the whole package, whether in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, or England. A growing number of customers are willing to pay a little extra for good products," Nijs continues.
High picking performance
BerryBrothers began its raspberry harvest last week. "We're picking the Kwanza variety now. Also, this year we have a new variety from Planasa, which we've tested for the past two years. It looks very promising. It's an excellent raspberry with good flavor, shelf life, and high picking performance. As labor costs rise, the latter is becoming increasingly important. If you can grow raspberries that you can pick a little faster, you keep costs under control."
Its employees' well-being is a high priority for BerryBrothers. The company is, therefore, relieved that construction of an Agro apartment complex at its main location in Roggel will begin in August. "This is a milestone for us because we think only growers who have their housing in order have a future. The preparation took seven years, but perseverance wins. We can initially accommodate just under 100 people, but we will build in phases, so it will eventually be double that," Nijs concludes.
For more information:
Nijs van Zuilen
18 Nijken, 6088 NR
Tel.: +31 (0) 646 708 453