Jan Groen:

“The Netherlands is an organic production paradise”

Even before a green pea or carrot has been sown, the complete harvest for the coming season has already been sold. The sales season for Green Organics finishes in February / early March. “Market-oriented growing is our speciality,” says Jan Groen, manager of Green Organics and chairperson of Bio Nederland. Despite efforts to increase production, it’s still challenging to keep up with growing demand.

“We only grow what we have already sold,” Jan says. Besides the fact that supply and demand remain balanced because of this, production capacity also has to be kept in mind for industrial processing. “We must also have capacity to process the products, and factories have to clear space to process the organic products,” he continues. “If the production of conventional products is like top-class sport, organic must be like Champions League football.” The production lines have to be completely cleaned before organic product can be processed. This requires a delicate touch.

Chronic shortage of green peas
After the harvest starts in June, the season lasts until about November, and the harvests of the different vegetables overlap. “That’s the beauty of industry, it can be set up very systematically and efficiently.” In the dynamic, organic corner, there are still some points of attention, but the organic production has improved because of investments. “Green peas are a product we’re always short of,” Jan says. This is mostly due to the relatively low yield per hectare. While carrot usually has a yield of 40 to 80 tonnes per hectare, between 6 and 8 tonnes of green peas are harvested from one hectare. “If you need several thousand tonnes, you can calculate how many hectares you need.”

Demand for organic vegetables for processing is similar to the entire market, the only difference being that double growth digits are reported. “Perhaps it’s excessive growth compared to the market,” Jan continues. Agreements about the production are made in consultation with growers, so that it’s clear to growers which products are much in demand.

Organic paradise
Green Organics focuses on production in the Netherlands, and more specifically: the Flevopolder, the Southwest and the Northeast of the Netherlands. Jan says these areas are an “organic paradise” for the production. “We have great conditions, good logistics, good machinery and good transport facilities, in short, we have everything to offer top-class performances.” Because of considerable growth in the sector, it’s practically impossible to meet the ever-increasing demand from the Netherlands.

In 2013, Green Organics called switching groups to life, which help conventional growers to switch to organic production. “This way, we’re trying to get more products on the market, but despite having worked on this for years, we’re still seeing demand growing more rapidly,” Jan says. The switching groups make it easier for growers to switch. The Bio Academy is also playing their part in this. Via this online platform, interested growers can request information about switching.

Ideals, economic interests and emotions
This allows the organic sector to respond to shifts on the market. From the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s, pioneering idealists chose organic production. In the period up to the mid-2000s, the economic switchers followed, who mainly switched for economic reasons. The last group now switching are called emotional switchers by Jan. This group includes growers who traditionally didn’t see much of a future in the organic production, but they’re now changing their mind due to changes on the market. “Besides, when new generations take over companies, you can see them thinking about the future, and they’re therefore also looking at organic production.” In recent years, a new movement was added to this, and this shows organic growers turning to organic dynamic production. “The Demeter logo is most recognisable for this,” Jan explains. “There’s special demand for these products from industry.”

For business enterprises and producers wanting to get started with organic products, a similar platform is available, Bio Nederland. “Parties can join us to gain access to much knowledge,” says Jan, who is chairperson of Bio Nederland.

International ambition
Although products grown as locally as possible are preferred, the company is now also looking across the border. “We now cover the entire Benelux and parts of Germany, France and Spain. This is necessary for product speciality, but local-for-local also plays its part.” Dutch production is still good for 70 to 80 per cent of production.

Compared to other countries it isn’t easy to copy the same model abroad. Yet this is asked for increasingly often. “It’s not for nothing that people abroad ask us to introduce the Green Organics model there,” Jan says. With the company’s long history, it can help growers abroad to set up a Supply Chain Model that works. “Abroad isn’t a spearhead, but we’re working on it separately.You can’t just set up an organic production area abroad.” Emphasis is on Europe. Projects further away are up for debate, but only if there’s an obvious advantage for the local population. “If we can offer an added value to the local population and serve a market, we’d definitely be open to that.”

Growing without customers is untenable
“The beauty of our company is that we’re part of all branches within fresh produce, and we’re seeing a healthy growth in all of these groups.” Growth figures are therefore not the sector’s first worry, organic reliability is a bigger challenge. “You have to be able to guarantee that reliability,” Jan explains. “That’s why we only do business with companies we’re familiar with.”

The growth in the sector comes with an annotation. There’s room to expand the production, but it’s not an option to grow without sales certainty. “Organic production is expensive, and it’s therefore untenable to grow without sales,” Jan warns. “That doesn’t fit the sustainable mindset either. You have to know who would be happy with your product. We think this is the only way.” He explains this by mentioning some figures. In the mid 1990s, organic spinach was grown on 6 hectares for industry. Nowadays, this area is between 600 and 800 hectares, and organic spinach has a market share of 25 per cent. Developments also came rapidly in the Flevopolder. In 1995, 5 to 10 per cent of production for industry in the polder was certified organic. Last year this changed, and more than two-thirds of production is now organic.

“If the organic market wants to guarantee growth qualitatively and quantitatively, close cooperation in the supply chain is an absolute condition. Organic has always been a connecting agriculture, and it should remain so. Green Organics was founded with connections in mind, and the company will take its leading position in this, and it’ll continue to build on this.”

More information:
Green Organics
Jan Groen

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