“Strawberries still offer plenty of growth opportunities,” says Gé Bentvelsen, director of ABZ Seeds. This Dutch company has focused for more than 25 years on propagating perennial F1 hybrid strawberry varieties from seed for greenhouse cultivation. In 2011, strawberries were grown in greenhouses on 110 hectares in the Netherlands, reports the Central Statistics Office. By 2021, that had grown to 440 hectares. Greenhouse cultivation – that’s where the business opportunities lie, says Gé.
“It offers a lot more certainty; you have no bad surprises and you can count on a quality product. In addition, you can better direct exchanges in the distribution chain. It is not for nothing that strawberries are now the third largest greenhouse crop in the Netherlands. You never would have thought that ten years ago.” He points out that the concept of strawberries from seeds is linked to other hot greenhouse crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, which are also grown from seeds. “I think we can still make great progress with our unique seed propagation concept,” adds Gé.
Reaching the tipping point
But he already sees market growth for this concept from seed. “We just need that extra push to reach the tipping point.” ABZ Seeds is working on this. They started a demo trial. “Growers can then follow the culture on rockwool and under assimilation lighting in a greenhouse with minimal heating from October to March.”
“After all, seeing is believing,” explains Gé. Rockwool was chosen so that the crop would match other greenhouse crops that are mainly grown on rockwool. Not on the peat and coconut substrate that is usually used for strawberries. “That way, producers don’t have to change; we try to make the threshold as low as possible. »
Need less power
Gé is convinced that the greenhouse cultivation of strawberries from seeds offers opportunities. Especially now, when many questions arise about energy consumption for heating greenhouse vegetables. This discussion is currently in full swing: shouldn’t we consider alternative crops to grow in greenhouses? Strawberries require much less energy than tomatoes or cucumbers.
“So they are a prime candidate. And if growers are used to working with plants grown from seed, the change is much easier. And it’s interesting because the greenhouse is there, the heating is there. But how to make money? when energy prices are so high? Market conditions have changed so much. So that gives greenhouse vegetable growers a chance to start growing strawberries,” says Bentvelsen.
There is definitely interest, notes ABZ Seeds. However, there are still many questions about this concept of strawberries from seeds. Gé attributes this in part to familiarity with traditionally propagated varieties. “The trade relies on certain varieties and knows Elsanta very well. Traders do not easily switch to another variety of strawberries. This does not mean that varieties based on seed propagation are not in demand. “We have regular contact with marketing organizations.”
“They are enthusiastic about the varieties that we now offer for greenhouse cultivation,” says Gé. The starting point is consumer perception. “Do people like the product? The strawberries must be delicious because it drives repeat purchases.” He sees that since you can’t just taste a strawberry, shoppers appreciate a nice strawberry. “Consumers like pretty, attractive strawberries – without white heads, but nicely colored, shiny and ripe.
If everything should be in order, in terms of quality, Gé believes that there is still plenty of room in the market for Dutch greenhouse strawberries. “Especially in winter, when the supply of good quality and tasty strawberries is limited. The quality of imported strawberries is often the reason people avoid strawberries in the winter. It’s a real shame, because it’s entirely possible to grow a quality product under glass here in the Netherlands.” For ABZ Seeds, flavor largely determines quality and is therefore an important goal in the process. “Flavour has always been number one for us,” concludes Gé.
Why propagate from seeds rather than cuttings?
Gé says preventing the transfer of diseases and pests from plant material is one of the reasons for working with seeds. “You don’t get that with seeds.” Logistics is another reason. “It’s much easier to ship seeds than cuttings over long distances,” he says. Additionally, a cutting takes about 18 months to two years to produce its first crop. A strawberry plant grown from seed can bear fruit after only about four months.
“Producers therefore don’t have to plan as far in advance and are much more flexible. All of these benefits prompted ABZ Seeds to begin seed propagation of strawberry strains about 30 years ago. “During this period, we have built a range for both the fresh market and for the market for garden plants and small packaging. We’ve also proven that seed propagation really works.
+31 (0)228 515 280