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"Double plastic solves moisture problem"

Wim de Weert has been growing strawberries in Portugal for the Dutch and French markets for 15 years

Fifteen years ago, Wim de Weert moved from the Netherlands to Portugal to run a strawberry farm (Rei de Morangos) ten kilometers north of Faro. "Originally, we grew the plants and sold them to Portuguese growers, but not much came of our advice. So, we started cultivating strawberries ourselves," he begins.

Wim grows strawberries on over two hectares. He markets them and those of a fellow grower with a 1.5-ha plot. Wim is affiliated with Veiling Zaltbommel and - via the auction - supplies French wholesaler Fruits Rouges. "We've recently been growing varieties like Magnum and Favori, which are quite sought after in France. We send our strawberries there and to the Netherlands from late November to late April."

The local market is less attractive to Rei de Morangos. "Other than tourists, people in southern Portugal don't spend much money. The Portuguese won't pay €6-€8 for a kilo of strawberries. We're a stone's throw from Huelva, where strawberries are cultivated on 6,500 hectares. They absolutely don't compare, quality-wise, but sell for €1.80 per 500g," says Wim.

The Dutchman grows his strawberries on coconut fiber substrate in cold greenhouses. "Moisture makes that challenging, but we deliberately don't use heating. Other than transportation, we, thus, have no footprint at all." Logistics has become a major expense over the years, though. "It's a quick two-day trip to the Netherlands, but transport costs have doubled in about five years," De Weert says.

To prevent problems with moisture, he invested in double plastic two years ago. "That works well. If the weather's bad, it stays dry inside. We have bad weather and all that brings at least every three years. You simply can't have that. That's no longer an issue with double plastic."

Just last week, a storm raged over this Portuguese soft fruit nursery. "We got 130 millimeters of rain over two days, which caused a bit of damage," Wim explains. He has no water shortage issues, though. "There's about 650-700 mm of water on average here in the winter. If you collect that, you can use it well during the year. That's just not yet part of the culture here."

After 15 years in Portugal, Wim has no desire to return to the Netherlands. "I think it has become a legislated, cantankerous country. I had a business there for a long time, which I should've gotten rid of much sooner. Here in Portugal, entrepreneurs are still embraced, and people are happy if you employ 20 people. You can still make a real living," he concludes.

For more information:
Wim de Weert
Rei de Morangos
Tel.: +35 191 421 0741
Email: [email protected]

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