Organics are booming, especially in Belgium. More and more consumers are buying organic fruit and vegetables. To provide this growing market with plenty of supply, both Ecodal and Hamerlinck LV grow organic greenhouse vegetables for the Belgian market. Ecodal grows “the entire range” of products on four hectares, while Hamerlinck focuses on regular organic greenhouse vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers. Krist Hamerlinck: “All organic greenhouse vegetables are actually on the rise in Belgium.”
Late in February, Hamerlinck and its associated sales organisation Eco Veg don’t have much trade yet in organic greenhouse vegetables. Hamerlinck: “Not much supply is available yet, and prices aren’t great for the time of year. Much supply comes from Spain, and that puts pressure on prices.” Hamerlinck supplies organic cucumbers from greenhouses as of late February, and aubergines, bell peppers and tomatoes are added mid-March.
Particularly in the organic segment Hamerlinck has seen increasing demand for speciality tomatoes such as beefsteak tomatoes and mini plum tomatoes. However, demand hasn’t just increased for the smaller, special varieties. “Demand for Roma tomatoes is also growing rapidly.” It’s difficult to compete with Spain particularly in the field of smaller tomatoes, although the quality of freshly harvested tomatoes in the Netherlands and Belgium is much higher than the half-ripe tomatoes imported from Spain, according to Hamerlinck.
“In Belgium, consumers clearly prefer locally grown Belgian greenhouse vegetables,” Hamerlinck continues. This is in contrast to the Netherlands, where consumers don’t mind eating an imported Spanish product. In total, Hamerlinck grows greenhouse vegetables on 28 hectares, 23 of which are distributed over the Netherlands and Belgium, and five hectares can be found in Mexico. “We can grow year-round in Mexico due to the favourable climate.”
To meet demand for local products in Belgium, Hamerlinck is looking for locations for expansion, “Approximately 80 per cent of our production in Belgium actually ends up with Belgian consumers.” That isn’t the case in the Netherlands, because the majority of Dutch production is sent to countries such as the UK and Scandinavia. Hamerlinck is therefore looking for locations to expand their production of organic greenhouse vegetables in these countries. “By growing local organic vegetables in these countries, we can meet demand for local organic products there as well.”
Hot and cold productions
While Krist Hamerlinck focuses on the production of regular hot organic greenhouse vegetable productions, Francis Kestemond of Ecodal grows “the entire range.” Ecodal does this on four hectares just south of Brussels. Besides being a nursery garden, Ecodal is mostly a sales organisation that sells products from other growers in addition to products from their own nursery. Kestemont: “We have both hot productions like tomatoes and cucumbers and cold productions including various types of lettuce such as butterhead lettuce and oak leaf lettuce. We grow these in different types of greenhouses, such as greenhouses heated via tubular rails and hot air greenhouses.”
Kestemont has seen a shift from hot to cold productions. “The good years of organic vegetables are over. There are no longer shortages due to the increased production in Spain and Italy, and prices were therefore much affected. Organic greenhouse vegetable production in the south is just cheaper because of the considerably lower heating costs.”
In general, Kestemont sees fewer hot and more cold productions in the organic greenhouse vegetable segment. As a result of some setbacks in 2017, Ecodal has adjusted their production plan. “We now only grow vegetables if we can be sure of sales. For example, we’re no longer growing tomatoes for the free market. Our tomato production therefore decreased from 2.2 hectares in 2017 to 1.2 hectares in 2018.”
The organic greenhouse vegetables sold by Ecodal are meant for the local market more and more. Brussels in particular is a good sales market for Ecodal, followed by Wallonia and Flanders. More and more consumers In the European city of civil servants are buying organic vegetables. Kestemont: “Our largest customers are organic supermarket formulas, other shops and processors. A very small part of our products is sold ‘door to door,’ to greenhouse vegetable enthusiasts around the corner.”
While Hamerlinck mostly sees increasing demand for speciality tomatoes, Kestemont says the sweet potato are a trending vegetable. Ecodal grows sweet potatoes on 0.5 hectares in 2018, partly in greenhouses, but also in tunnels and in the open air. “The product remains the same in all cases, but we can extend our harvesting season because of the production in greenhouses.”