To deliver their ‘Blooming Joy’ brand of flowers to customers more sustainably, brothers Jarno and Dieter Baas are constantly improving their greenhouse growing processes and considering their environmental impact.
Some Europeans buy flowers as often as eggs and milk. Others buy potted or garden plants with the change of the seasons: spring violets, summer geraniums, fall mums, and Christmas poinsettias. To meet these consumer demands, floriculture leaders like the Baas brothers must innovate to grow in a sustainable way.
Gaining international experience
Arie and Ineke Baas started the family flower business, Kwekerij Baas, in the 70s near Urk, in the Netherlands. Their sons Jarno and Dieter eventually took over, but first the brothers wanted to gain work experience abroad and learn more ways to grow.
Jarno explains: "After school, I went to the US and worked in a greenhouse business. I brought home a lot of ideas. Their type of irrigation system and the mixed flower pots that we currently make, all these were commonplace in the US eighteen years ago. Americans are also much more marketing-minded. We brought that knowledge back with us to the Netherlands.”
Since then, the brothers have done more than keep the family business alive. “My brother Dieter works on the marketing side,” says Jarno. “He built our ‘Blooming Joy’ brand, and one by one, we started gaining bigger contracts.”
The summer weather was warm enough for the chrysanthemums to grow outside too. The mums were being grown for supermarkets and the coming fall season.
100 million plants
Today the brothers are a leading player in the floriculture sector, one of the top five growers in the Netherlands. The Baas nursery alone supplies 100 million potted and garden (‘bedding’) plants year-round to several large retailers, like the biggest supermarket chains.
“The supermarkets expect to receive a similar size and quality,” explains Jarno. “Sometimes that can be achieved outside, when the weather is good. But we are able to better control conditions and quality inside the greenhouses, like temperature, water and insects.”
Blossoming with bio-energy
With so many plants and flowers to grow every year, Baas needs warmth and energy for the greenhouses. The facility produces enough bio-energy to run 2,400 households per year.
“Our biomass system is fuelled by wood chips from tree trimmings. Combustion releases hot gases which heats water. The heated water flows through a network to warm the greenhouses. The system ensures a minimum burden on the environment and guarantees that we have a sustainably-grown product.”
Creative water management
For many Northern European growers, the 2018 summer drought meant putting water-saving efforts into action. This was not the case for the Baas nursery, which has its own water management system.
“During any dry weeks, we can draw from our water tanks. The ‘ebb and flow system’ in the greenhouse ensures that the pots soak in water for some time so that the potting soil itself can absorb the water and nutrients. The water drains away and is recycled.”
Not bugged by bugs
Consumer trends and regulations have called for fewer pesticides for both food and agriculture products. But unwanted insects can destroy a whole planting and growing season. The brothers are transparent about how they control insects, their use of pesticides and how they spray. They have even shared a video about how pests are treated on their website.
“A few years ago, farmers sprayed based on the calendar and what day it was. Now we monitor different insects and have pest-catching boxes. We spray only where the pests are. If we don’t have bugs, then we don’t have to spray,” says Jarno.
Jarno Baas with Jacco Griep from the local Rabobank branch. Because the greenhouses are 3.6 kilometers across, employees use bikes and electric golf carts to get around. When they run out of room on the floor, plants get stored on racks across the ceilings.
Wet paper? A bad idea
The brothers are open to better methods and products to support sustainable production, and they were among the first to try paper instead of plastic for wrapping and shipping.
“It didn’t work out so well. Paper gets wet and can’t take on water. Plastic keeps the plants protected and can handle water. But if something better comes along, we would try it. We’ve gone back to plastic for our growing pots and shipping purposes, but we’ve cut back on waste by using recycled plastic,” says Jarno.
Transparency and accessibility
Staying eco-friendly and transparent about the operations of 25 hectares of greenhouses takes some effort. Arne Bac, Sector Specialist Horticulture for Rabobank praises the Baas brothers’ achievements: “Kwekerij Baas has established a very high level of sustainability in both cultivation and energy management. As a result, it’s expected that their footprint is considerably less than that of their fellow growers.”
One of the company's core values is transparency. Each season, dealers, retailers and students can visit the nursery and get tours to see the wide variety of plants and the test garden. Despite the competition, the Baas nursery shares their ‘secrets’ on tours, in company films and on social media. “We have nothing to hide and we want to show how we work. Openness and accessibility are important to us.”