Belgium’s floriculture sector is thriving after demand for ornamental flowers and plants has risen sharply, which is welcome news after the difficulties faced during the beginning of the coronavirus crisis.
The production value of the ornamental plant and tree nursery sector in Belgium amounts to approximately €600 million, according to the Flemish infocentre for agriculture and horticulture (VILT), with around 90% of that value realised in Flanders.
The cultivation takes place on 6,500 hectares throughout the country and the sector employs some 3,600 people, including 1,000 seasonal workers.
Wim and Annelies Scheers-Hens in Kontich are among those 3,600. They’ve been able to use their success to expand efforts in the fields of sustainability and biological crop protection. “There are fewer and fewer chemical pesticides available and consumers are also demanding more and more organic products,” Wim Scheers explained.
One way the Scheers-Hens have been able to keep their costs down (and therefore weather the pandemic) is by tackling the energy bills with LED lighting, and exploring biological pest control in the form of cryptobugs, which eat the eggs of nuisance beetles.
They were one of the first rose growers to make the switch to LED, increasing their light output and improving production.
The success they’ve had has been enough to afford investing €600,000 towards the purchase of an automatic sorting line.
Their flower farm is a family-owned one in its fourth generation. Scheers’ great-grandfather grew lettuce, but after his father switched to roses, Wim decided to go organic. He’s also entering the circular economy: the leaves that are removed from the bottom of the rose stem go to the Planckendael ZOO in Mechelen, where okapis and giraffes enjoy them as food.
There are only five remaining rose growers in Belgium, and the total area of roses in Flanders has shrunk to about 15 hectares.
“A lot of companies have disappeared in recent years, but the remaining ones are all companies with top quality production,” said Sonja De Becker, chair of Boerenbond, a farmers collective, who says the Scheers-Hens success is representative of the sector as a whole.
“A lot of effort is put into sustainability: efficient water and energy consumption and integrated crop protection.”