“There appears to be a ‘chain problem’ for organic greenhouse vegetables”

Tholen – There are many problems that the sector has to take into account at the moment. Whether it is the very high energy bill, the high inflation or the climate. For Biobedrijf Vermeulen, all these challenges are connected. “Last year certainly did not go wrong with a positive final balance. However, all uncertainties lie towards the future. It appears to be a chain problem,” says business manager Philip Vermeulen from the organic horticulture company.

The company, located in Ruddervoorde, Belgium, was founded in 1987. “Since 1999, we have made the full transition to organic,” explains Philip. “At that time I had been thinking about going organic for a while, and we had been working organically for five years with insect control. At that time I actually didn’t know at all whether it would be picked up in the community, but after a trip to I found in New Zealand that organic was much more established there. I thought it wouldn’t be possible, but I noticed there could be a nice market for it.”

So Philip continued the walk. A move he has never regretted. “Of course we’ve had our ups and downs, but I never wanted to go back to normal.” Biobedrijf Vermeulen specializes in tomatoes, but also grows other organic fruit and vegetables, such as zucchini, eggplant and cucumber. “Tomatoes are our banner because we grow a very wide variety of them.”

Around 150 different tomato varieties of all sizes and shapes grow in Philip Vermeulen’s greenhouse, from small berry tomatoes to overgrown Coeur de boeufs. “In the beginning we also exported to England, which actually went quite well. But due to various problems in sales, we decided to focus more on regional. We wanted to gradually expand here and create structural sales. That we have succeeded, have I can say, because we have a nice stable clientele.” This consists mainly of caterers, but also specialist organic food stores and wholesalers. “Avid users include gastronomic restaurants, including star restaurants, but local restaurants or caterers can also come to us.”

Chain problem: Electricity bill times 2.5
As indicated, however, both the organic sector and greenhouse cultivation are in the corner where the blows fall. “These difficulties are mainly due to the increased energy costs. Halfway through the year I had to conclude a new contract for electricity, and it has gone 2.5 times. We are still good for gas until the end of December, but after that I will have to make a choice to switch to wood or fuel oil. We want to be sustainable, but at the moment we have the choice to stop production or grow less sustainably and temporarily choose wood or fuel oil. It’s still better than the governments that allow coal fired power plants to restart en masse. For this we need a little help from the government. It’s simply not possible anymore, and with wood or fuel oil you know how much you’re buying. It doesn’t fluctuate like with a variable gas or electricity bill.”

In addition, Biobedrijf Vermeulen always bought its organic plant material from Plantise. However, this planter is also currently for sale, which means Philip has to look at other suppliers. “It’s a kind of chain problem. We have problems, but so do other companies and consumers. We were very satisfied with Plantise, but we have to look for another grower. They are not so easy to get biological. Our plants are usually already sown for the next season, but because of all these aspects this is not the case now. In the winter we grow organic chickens in the greenhouse and these will remain for a while. Due to the negotiations and increased costs, we decide to start later. looking to start in March, but I really don’t dare say anything concrete about that yet.”

However, this ‘chain problem’ also extends to the sales side. “Towards the end of the season, we already saw that purchases became a little more cautious, but it seems to be a trend that colleagues are also observing. People’s budgets are somewhat lower, and people are only becoming more cautious about next year’s uncertainties . Everyone wants to have some money left over to do fun things for the holidays, so they choose supermarkets or online to save a few euros. It turns out to be a loop for many entrepreneurs that they can’t overcome.”

Risks
Nevertheless, the organic grower sees a future for both organic and horticulture. “It only depends on the gentlemen who rule the world. As a small grower, it is not made easy for you. In Holland, for example, it was decided that no more potatoes could be grown after October, and Flanders followed this example not much later. It’s weird, isn’t it?” “Will the same thing happen with greenhouse warming?”

“I stand for the environment and would like to work on a future with sustainable energy. For example, I also want to install solar panels. I have also inquired about my own wind turbine, but I was actually advised not to even try,” Philip explains. “In order to use the energy efficiently, you have to invest. But if you say next year that you must no longer use heat to grow tomatoes, you are left in the monkey. With these uncertainties, it is impossible to take such risks. run as a smaller entrepreneur, because before you know it, it’s done. These are all things that go through my head. To me, ‘cooking costs money’, by which I mean that energy is needed to produce food. An alternative is to import even more food from countries where all these measures do not apply.”

Philip sees the war as the main culprit in this whole story, but also as a solution when it finally comes to an end. “No one wants a war, and yet it continues. It is the main reason why everything is getting more expensive. Who is pulling the strings here? What is certain is that the super-rich have only gotten richer in recent years. I am convinced that if the war is over and there are no more lockdowns, everything will return to normal. So will gas prices, so people can resume ‘normal’ lives. It’s just a matter of waiting.”

For more information:
Philip Vermeulen
Organic company Vermeulen
Havebrugsgade 2a
8020 Ruddervoorde
+32 50 276997
info@biobedrijfvermeulen.be
www.biobedrijfvermeulen.be

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