Sjaak van Schie, of Maasdijk, in the southwest of the Netherlands grows hydrangeas that vary in size from minis to large plants, with a large flower ball of at least 30 cm diameter, from soft pastel colours to hard tints. In his office the visitor cards highlight how over the last few years the nursery has become more focused on the production of rooted and unrooted cuttings from this wide range of plants.
Sjaak van Schie began growing dianthus in 1980 in Honselersdijk, Westland. At a certain moment he had 5 ha in the Netherlands and a nursery in Portugal producing these flowers. When the dianthus market changed due to strong competition from overseas he looked for an alternative product. He decided to choose something that couldn’t be so easily transported by air – to reduce the competition – and came upon the hydrangea.
Ten year plan
He took it seriously from the start and made a ten-year plan to achieve his goal via his own propagation from cuttings. Towards the end he started to breed as well. “When I realised that I hadn’t started with the right partner with respect to breeding, doors opened at other breeding companies. I was able to observe what they were doing and saw opportunities. Conversely they saw that as a propagation company I produced many cuttings. Through me they had a good sales channel and could receive a lot of royalties.”
Today the grower supplies a wide range, from unrooted cuttings to flowering plants. Van Schie annually receives virus-free laboratory plants which he cultivates into mother plants.
Domestic and abroad
Today his facilities in the Netherlands comprise a 12 ha greenhouse and 24 ha for containers outdoors. In addition, in St. Isidro de Pegões, Portugal, he has a 24 ha field for containers and a 6 ha greenhouse. Within this, 1.5 ha is assigned to mother plants, 2 ha for rooting and 2.5 ha for the pot plants Dipladenia and waxflowers that he grows to spread his risk. In Uganda is another nursery of 1.5 ha for mother plants from which only unrooted cuttings are produced.
“We root about 40 per cent of the cuttings ourselves. We sell the unrooted cuttings to other nurseries. Of the rooted cuttings 30 per cent are sold and the rest are grown on to the end product.” In Portugal this specialised nursery has stopped producing hydrangeas as an end product. “We were competing with our own end customers. They said they would only buy half finished plants if we stopped. In the Netherlands we only cultivate the new products through to end products. This is just 10 per cent of the amount of end product we used to sell.”
Ultimately he only wants to cultivate his newest and most special ‘Hy-pe varieties through to the end product. The name is a combination of Hy-drangea and the Portuguese origin of the plants. ‘Pe’ means ‘at the foot of’ and indicates the production site in Portugal. This line includes the products ‘Avantgarde’ and ‘Double Dutch’.
“I visit, together with my sales team, all the breeders in Europa. I can choose the best types and for a part I receive the exclusive sales rights. Firstly we try out the new varieties in small volumes to prevent them being swallowed into the mass. As soon as the top segment picks up on them the rest follows, says Van Schie from experience.
Characteristics that the grower looks for are nice flower colour, double colours, special leaf, good vase life, reduced stress susceptibility and a strong plant. The plants are aimed at the garden and houseplant market and it doesn’t matter in which country. “It is a popular plant that does well everywhere.”
The daily life of this motivated businessman has a tight schedule. “My secretary keeps a perfect agenda.” This has to be the case because he has to divide his time between the nurseries in
Maasdijk and Portugal. “I’m two weeks in the Netherlands and one week in Portugal. In addition I visit clients in Scandinavia, Germany, England, Italy, Portugal, Spain and France. Clients from all over Europe visit while I’m in Portugal. Luckily I have a very strong sales team to support me.”
The daily running is in the hands of a Dutch-Portuguese team of people. The business in the Netherlands is staffed by around 60 permanent employees and about 70 extra temporary staff during the peak periods. Some 75 employees work in Portugal plus around 90 temporary staff during peak periods who take cuttings and pick up plants. The branch in Uganda is managed by JP Cuttings.
The grower uses the production nurseries in the different countries to his advantage. Half finished plants from Portugal arrive on the market later in the season but have a better shelf life. “The Dutch half finished plants are ready earlier but have a shorter shelf life. In Uganda we only produce unrooted cuttings.”
The Portuguese nursery is run by a Dutch management team. The Portuguese work well and do mainly the production work. “Regarding safety the same rules apply here as in the Netherlands. The tax situation is somewhat different. Social security is at a high level in Portugal. The salaries are lower and the tax too. This rises progressively with the rise in income.”
Up until last year Van Schie still sold end product in Portugal. Therefore he still has a reasonably good picture about the Portuguese consumer’s ‘idea of quality’. “The Spanish and Portuguese really buy on price. They want a reasonable quality but not the same as that required in England or Germany.”
The average buyer, who does not do business with Lidl or Aldi, doesn’t ask questions about sustainability. “Three years ago growers could still use methyl bromide. They are 20 years behind. The EU quickly brought that to an end. They are now about five years behind. That’s not a problem for me. I know what’s coming because a lot of business has already been filled in.”
Price determining factor in the Netherlands
Sustainable production is the grower’s hobbyhorse. He does everything possible to produce a beautiful and sustainable product. But he’s not very positive about the value placed on that in the Netherlands. “Supermarkets talk about healthy and environmentally friendly products but, when it comes down to it, price is the determining factor. But because of the supermarkets we no longer use undesirable substances.” It costs the production company money and energy to make that happen.
“Our problem is that the rules are made by non-growers without any feeling for cultivation. The black and white actions by Dutch supermarkets therefore cause a lot of frustration. In other European countries such as England, Germany, Scandinavia and Switzerland we can ask certain clients to pay more for sustainably cultivated products.”
Sjaak van Schie produces rooted and unrooted cuttings and half finished hydrangea plants in Portugal, Uganda and the Netherlands. In the Netherlands he also grows some of the plants through to fully flowering end products. These include the Hy-pe range, a top line through which he introduces new hydrangeas to the market. The company puts a lot of emphasis on sustainability although, particularly in the Netherlands, supermarkets don’t value this enough.
Text and photos: Marleen Arkesteijn