Hubrecht Janse began cultivating Salicornia for the fresh market in the Netherlands in 2006. Soon after, he started wanting to harvest this mechanically. "We certainly had to dispel some prejudices first. Not everyone was confident about the quality of machine-harvested Salicornia. But, by now, we've convinced the market," he says
Janse's company, Zeeuws Zilt, stems from De Heerlijkheid, a Dutch family business. That is a sizeable country camping site, combined with an arable farm. It is in the province of Zeeland. On the 65-hectare farm, crops like potatoes, sugar beets, wheat, and grass seed are grown. One hectare is reserved for the Salicornia. It is cultivated on land, using the salty water from Lake Veere.
"In our search for mechanical harvesting solutions, we found Pack TTI's EazyCut pruning system", says Hubrecht. This system was originally used in tea harvesting, where it hangs on the bushes. But that was not an option with Salicornia. That is why they built a frame to which the system is attached. Arnold van Heek built that frame. He is also the EazyCut dealer for the Netherlands. This system uses an ultra-sharp knife to harvest the crop. The plants are blown undamaged, backward into a collection bag.
Saving labor costs was not even the primary reason for wanting to harvest mechanically. Making the work more comfortable was. "The galvanized frame built above the EazyCut system lets us harvest at a fixed height. That makes the work much more comfortable. It certainly saves manpower. But you still need two people to operate the machine."
"However, I think the biggest advantage is that we no longer have to kneel. We harvest for 15 weeks, six days a week. That's much easier to do now. The machine gives us a lot of job satisfaction and flexibility. Also, I love that we're working on professionalizing our crop," continues Hubrecht.
"We bought the first machine in 2009. We replaced it with the second version in 2014. Its track width was broadened from 1,20m to 1,52m for us. So, it fits perfectly into our driving paths. Otherwise, you have to drive and walk through the plants. By now, we have 13 seasons of experience with this system. We were the first in the world to harvest Salicornia in this way. Since then, several Salicornia growers in Portugal, Israel, and France, among others, have followed our example."
"The system isn't cheap, but we're very happy with it. We have to deal with salt, moisture, and sometimes sand, so things wear out easily. We approach Pack TTI for parts, which they've never had to replace so quickly. I like that they're so close. They have many parts in stock, and they brainstorm with me about what I need. That's welcome, too, because it's often mid-season when you need things. We harvest fresh for our customers every day. So, if things come to a halt, you want to get back to work as soon as possible," explains Hubrecht.
This Salicornia is harvested from mid-May to mid-September. "Last season went well, although it was quite challenging. The wet, dark conditions led to fungal pressure. And the Salicornia sometimes grew poorly." This marsh samphire is sold to wholesalers, the catering industry, farm stores, and direct sales.
This market has grown in recent years. "The challenge is to find a place for a seasonal product. You don't quite fit in anywhere. This type of cultivation is also still far from developed. But, we're well-pleased with the mechanical harvesting," Hubrecht concludes.