Exactly 12.5 years ago the Van den Bos brothers started their company Islandplant. The brothers were introduced to the trade from an early age, the business that their father once started was expanded and optimized and has now grown into one of the absolute giants in hydrangea cultivation. In short, time for a bronze statue on the mantelpiece and to take stock.
Martin and Peter van den Bos. The brothers have divided the work in such a way that Martin is primarily responsible for cultivation and Peter for commerce.
For Peter and Martin the start of the company was quite tough, but because they had been around for a few years they already had the necessary experience and (cultivation) knowledge. Moreover, they knew their way around the sector, cultivation could be continued in the existing 6-hectare greenhouse and a large proportion of the staff remained with the restart.
A solid basis, therefore, whereby the last factor in particular may well have been decisive. "Some of them are still with us, although of course some have retired over the years", says Peter. This is probably the biggest challenge of tomorrow: labour. Where will the technically trained staff, the cultivators and the experienced hands in production come from in the future? This group is ageing, new recruits are limited and a shortage is looming. New employees and a bit of rejuvenation is therefore always in the back of the entrepreneurs' minds.
A look into the sea of flowers (photo is from a few months ago, at the moment the greenhouse is full of poinsettia and pot Chrysanthemum, and there is no colour on them yet).
Over the years, some things have changed. The greenhouse area has expanded from 6 to 11 hectares, divided over three greenhouses that are all located in the same horticultural area. In addition, the grower has some 17 ha of outdoor field. This is used for growing young hydrangeas and in the summer months for cutting terrace hydrangeas. The staff consists of 27 permanent employees; depending on the season, 50 to 70 extra pairs of hands are needed. The largest part of the sales is through contracts, but the products are also offered on the auctions. Due to the ever-improving quality of the products, the number of buyers continues to grow and grow with each passing year.
The forklift truck has an innovative fork, which was developed by Martin and which allows the plants to be spread out more effectively.
Islandplant drives the first hydrangeas into the greenhouse in mid-November. These are then available from week 1 or 2, they are one of the first on the market. The grower makes the cuttings himself: "Maybe not the cheapest, but then you can control the delivery and the quality", says Peter. The challenge is to rotate as efficiently as possible and not to have empty meters. In addition, hanging pots with petunia, calibrachoa, fuchsia, lobelia and a few other plants are grown in the spring. The pot Chrysanthemum takes up a big place from the summer onwards, just like the poinsettia, which are set up in these weeks. When the first batch goes out, it is November again and the circle is complete.
Expansion plans or major changes are not on the cards, Peter says, "Although the market could do with some more growth. However, there are enough issues that demand attention or where we can take steps. Labour is one of them, but we also have to deal with the ever-shrinking range of products, for example. We are mainly looking for more compact varieties that can do without inhibitors. Many of our poinsettias go to England and we know that controls have become stricter. Last winter, our poinsettias were rejected just before the Brexit, so we now have to see how things go this year. In addition, the issue of energy also remains complex and topical."
What is certain, however, is that the hydrangea stands strong. "Of course, we look outwards and try to move with the market. But hydrangea is and remains our core business. We are still learning, there is still more than enough challenge and room for improvement. Our customers can continue to count on being able to get the best and most beautiful plants from us tomorrow too."