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Fruitport West-Brabant now really official:

"Staying ahead thanks to qualitative depth for soft fruit sector"

Coöperatieve Vereniging Fruitport West-Brabant u.a. has been officially launched for a few weeks now. However, the 'call sign' Fruitport West-Brabant fits better. Peter Nouws, Mark van Aert, and Ruud Matthijssen noticed this almost immediately after a spontaneous post on LinkedIn. The word cooperative made people think of a new marketing organization for soft fruit, but Fruitport is definitely not that. In West Brabant, many people already know that too. In fact, the initiative was launched back in 2017.

But what is Fruitport, and what does this 'official launch' mean? At the location of strawberry grower and board member Mark, we are updated by the board, which further consists of chairman Peter Nouws and secretary Ruud Matthijssen. Peter also brings in grower experience, while Ruud works a lot with growers on behalf of Rabobank. The fourth person at the table in Zundert is Janny Verschure-Trouw. She was also there in 2017 and brings a lot of experience in soft fruit and also advocacy.

Board members Mark van Aert, Peter Nouws, and Ruud Matthijssen, with housing for employees of Van Aert Aardbeienkwekerij under construction in the background

Not an advocate
The term advocacy can also immediately clear up a second misunderstanding. Fruitport is also not an advocate. Fruitport acts as a regional platform, an intermediary specialized in soft fruit between the government and the sector, created in consultation with interest representatives without wanting to 'get in the way' of the latter.

Ruud: "Parties ask us at the table to contribute sector expertise. Very specific expertise about the soft fruit sector in the West Brabant region." The soft fruit sector is an important sector in the region. The production value of soft fruit in the region was between €150m and €200m in 2018, when figures were last collected. Fruitport also wants to maintain this 'frontrunner position.'

Great diversity
A major reason for the kick-off of Fruitport in the years before Covid was a discussion about Cultivation Support Facilities (TOVs). Under these, the government lists a whole diverse range of facilities that growers use in their cultivation. In the soft fruit sector, for example, temporary walking shelters as well as permanent scaffolding. As varied as TOVs are, soft fruit growers are even more so. "No one location is the same. The diversity is huge," Mark knows better than anyone else.

Qualitative depth
Hence, the need for 'fine-grained input,' as Ruud puts it, for all kinds of policy themes. Janny adds: "Here in the region, we sit at the table with (semi)-governments, with ZLTO, and with Treeport on behalf of the tree nursery sector. We complement each other well. Fruitport provides the qualitative depth on soft fruit."

Both the government and growers and suppliers welcome the initiative. This was already evident when Fruitport West Brabant was kicked off in April 2018. Janny: "The hall was completely full. The then provincial deputy was also there and enthusiastically supported the platform."

Flat organisation
At the kick-off of the initiative, Peter was still a cucumber grower. He has since sold his company. Strawberries are now, coincidentally, grown there. "That demand from the field for this initiative was there so strongly that it triggered me when I was asked to become chairman." He takes over from Rinie van Tilburg, who was still chairman at the kick-off. "We deliberately chose a flat organization. Three-man board and, below that, a members' council with eight to 10 growers. That's also where the knowledge is."

The members' council meeting on behalf of Breda Ilse van Oers, Etten-Leur Vincent van Es, and Nancy Pertijs, on behalf of Halderberge Erik Peeters, on behalf of Drimmelen and Oosterhout Albert Vermeulen, on behalf of Roosendaal Niels Huijsmans, on behalf of Rucphen Mark Valentijn, on behalf of Steenbergen and Bergen op Zoom Arno Loos and behalf of Zundert Niels Dictus.

Asked to the table
Fruitport is being asked to join the conversation on a variety of topics. Labor, water, the Bee Landscape, and the already mentioned TOVs and energy are a few. Ruud: "There are only more challenges to come." They are also mostly national themes, but that is exactly why Fruitport was started. A regional, official soft fruit link was missing. Mark: "We are, for example, asked to help think about an ongoing project on Climate-Resilient stream landscape Aa of Weerijs." Especially that 'asked' is crucial, according to the board. "We are not an advocate but do not hesitate to express our opinions. And where necessary, we also push growers themselves to give the right input. We have set up the Members' Council for that purpose, among others."

Totally official
Interestingly, even without the official establishment, Fruitport's voice is already well heard. And documented, for example, in the stream valley case study. "In that, we are already mentioned by name, while we actually kept quiet publicly," Janny notes. "After all, we weren't officially anything yet."

Until September 26, 2023. That's when the signatures were made at the notary, with which, more than six years after the fact, the incorporation is now also official. Fruitport can now start attracting paying members. There was already plenty of enthusiasm for this. 1.5 years ago, potential members were already asked to fill in forms. That happened in abundance. In the words of former chairman Rinie van Tilburg from 2018, "The strength of the soft fruit sector is underexposed, we want to do something about that with Fruitport West-Brabant."

For more information:
Fruitport West-Brabant

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