“Worldwide the middle class is growing and with it the need for safe food is increasing. That requires a substrate that ensures maximum yield of the crop. That does not only apply to fruit and vegetables, also other crops such as potted plants, flowers and cannabis benefit from a good basis. The substrate forms that foundation and that must be good. You don't put a racing bike on wooden wheels, do you?” Talking is Jack van Batenburg from Shakti Cocos.
Peter Zethof and Jack van Batenburg during Greentech 2019.
Shakti Cocos has for many years been supplying coco for professional horticulture, delivered in briquettes, open top bags, grow bags or in large bales of five kilos. You don't see it, but there is a lot of technology hidden in those brown blocks, says Jack.
In the mid-80s Jos van der Gaag from Van der Gaag Potgrond B.V. started with the sale of coco as potting soil. This resulted in Shakti Cocos, a company that was at the basis of the development from unprocessed coco to a versatile substrate. Jack: “A lot of knowledge has been put into the product over the years. Because we give the coco the correct chemical treatment and make it physically stable, produce it in a clean environment and mix it in the most optimal proportions, we make it suitable as a substrate. There is the right composition for every crop. For example, within the company a way has been developed to influence the pH in coco. A substrate with a lower pH value is suitable for, among other things, the cultivation of various types of soft fruit."
What is a good substrate?
Since January 1, 2018, Shakti Cocos B.V. has been trading as an independent company with its own controlled production locations in India and Sri Lanka. One of the first things Jack and his colleagues did was to apply for the RHP certificate, a quality assessment for substrates. Jack: “The growing coco market has many suppliers. However, the quality of all coco on offer is not always just as good. You can't see it on the outside of a pressed block, but you can tell by the results during the cultivation.
"Producing safe, high-quality coco in a responsible way comes at a price. And regarding that price: a simple calculation - when you calculate it back per plant - is that the price difference is not even that great. Moreover, you will earn it back from the production. In a good substrate, a plant can develop its roots better, so that the plant absorbs nutrients better. In addition, the plant is more resistant, less sensitive to external influences. Good quality coco can save on fertilizers, water and crop protection products."
If a substrate is certified, then not only the quality of it, but also the way of production, was examined. The production sites in India and Sri Lanka were assessed in detail for the SA 8000 certification. “We have to produce in such a way that there is no difference whether you produce in India or in the Netherlands. Terms such as child labor, exploitation or pollution are then not at all relevant."
"In addition to the safety and hygiene in our factories, we also look at the environment. For example, we ensure that the people in the nearby village can visit a doctor once a year. It may be a simple gesture, but then it concerns the village where our employees come from. It is this village that tolerates our production. And that is also worth a lot."