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Henk van den Berg, Summerflowers

Peonies are in demand, but lack of labor causes headaches

The peony might very well be the quintessential Mother's Day flower. The peony season has started, and particularly the weather determines who is going to profit the most from this holiday: the grower with greenhouses, the grower with tunnels, or the grower who has his plants in the open field. 

In any case, the last ones will be too late, but that is usual. The peonies - not including those from southern countries - always come first out of the greenhouses, then from the tunnels, and finally, in the second half of May, from the field. It is also too early to tell if it will be a good season or bad season. Henk van den Berg of promotion collective Summerflowers: "So far, it's a good season. Because it is cold outside, there is less overlap of the peonies from abroad and the greenhouse with those from the tunnels and the field. The season is being stretched, so to speak."

Dutch celebrity gardener Rob Verlinden at the Keukenhof

For seasonal products, and certainly for peonies, the weather is decisive. A special dynamic in this market is the contrast between the north and south of the Netherlands. Peony growers are all over the country, with more plastic tunnels in the south, and with the larger outdoor players in the north. This division can be both favorable and unfavorable. "If the weather is good, the north is two weeks behind the south. If the weather is bad, the difference is only a week. Last year we had a very warm period that started when the south was almost empty. This really had an effect on the growers in the north."

Labor
The issue at hand for peonies, however, is labor. Lack of availability of labor, because that is becoming an increasingly larger problem. The grower needs extra hands for maximally four to six weeks - many extra hands. The acreage has grown in recent years and will continue to do so - with a bit of luck, a plant can be used for a decade - but then, as Henk expects, it will start to collapse. "It's not that they don't see it coming, and as far as possible, also the large players are trying to diversify, but it is becoming more and more of a problem. Better expensive than not for sale at all, but in practice the latter happens more often. There you are, on the field of a grower, filled with beautiful flowers, but he can't do anything with those flowers because there is no one to harvest them."

Progressive insight
A peony is hard to manage. It will grow when it is warm, you can be sure of that, but you cannot tell beforehand when it will start to flower. The grower also cannot tell. On the other hand, the market can be sure of a large number of fans of the flower. The increasingly broad assortment contributes to that, as does the longer availability. "Last year we had, partly because of supply from the other side of the world, and particularly because of the increasingly broad application of so-called ULO (ultra low oxygen) cooling, flowers on the auction all year round. I don't believe that has ever happened before."

The quality is also improving all across the board. "The progressive insight is enormous on all fronts. There is a lot of development in the field of mechanization - producers are not idle, and work hard on further automation of the cultivation. Also, both cooling and the chain are more and more under control, which greatly benefits quality, and finally, growers are making large steps in the field of crop protection and fertilization."

Promotion
In short, here's to a great peony season, as far as Van den Berg is concerned. He just returned from the Keukenhof, where he has done some filming together with Rob Verlinden for a Dutch TV show. "It is going to be a beautiful, longer item. We filmed at a grower in a greenhouse and at a grower outside on the field."


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