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Younger generation boosts radish cultivation at Ortolanda in Italy

After more than 20 years of cultivating radishes in Italy, Willem-Jan Coolbergen of Ortolanda Borgo-Grappa has recently been increasingly contemplating the future. "I'm here primarily for the farm and the company. My heart, though, lies in the Netherlands. I still watch Dutch TV, and as an avid kitesurfer, it remains my favorite vacation destination," he begins.

His son Melchior shares his passion for growing radishes. "He and Ruud and Monique Cornelissen often visit Italy. It's fantastic to have this younger generation involved. I've been here on my own for years; now, suddenly, I have all these young people around me."

"It's a great stimulus. It was also a significant reason for us to further expand and professionalize our cultivation in Italy. New greenhouse construction is currently in full swing," says Willem-Jan.

Italian radish cultivation used to focus mainly on the winter crop. Nowadays, though, Italian radishes are increasingly being supplied year-round. "We can hardly talk about seasons anymore."

"There's no period when we're not cultivating. However, we grow the most radishes from mid-November to mid-April and the upcoming period is genuinely challenging. There are few radish growers in Italy during the summer, although their number is rising. Three growers cultivate loose radishes in this area alone," Willem-Jan explains.

Fully manual harvest
Ortolanda has about 45 hectares of greenhouses in Italy. With fellow growers cultivating for the company, that area reaches about 70 hectares in winter and between 20 and 30 in the summer. According to Willem-Jan, automating the harvest is not feasible. "We cultivate in semi-open greenhouses and depend heavily on the weather. Using machines is, thus, challenging. Since we aim for the highest quality, we harvest everything by hand."

"This makes the labor challenge even greater. We employ about 180 people, mainly from India and Italy, whom we want to keep employed year-round. The trick as a family business is to create a bond among them while respecting their different cultures and keeping it fun. We want to further professionalize the company here in Borgo-Grappa, but we depend on our people for that," says Coolbergen.

Looking back on his Italian experience, Willem-Jan speaks of a tremendous success. "When the Cornelissen and Coolbergen families began this adventure, we could never have dreamed of this. We wondered if we could even grow good radishes in 30°C weather, but selecting this area proved a great choice. It has excellent cultivation conditions."

"From the start, we focused on supplying supermarkets throughout Europe, especially outside Italy. We've had close partnerships with stores like Lidl for years, supplying programs throughout Europe. The challenge for the coming years will be to further expand the number of countries we supply," Willem-Jan points out. For now, his future lies in Italy, but according to the grower, that's no punishment. "We get a lot of Dutch visitors. My father is over this week, and it's wonderful to have three generations working here together," he concludes.

For more information:
Willem-Jan Coolbergen
Ortolanda Borgo-Grappa
Tel.: +39 3 335 887 983
Email: [email protected]

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