For over 60 years, Flevoplant has mainly been cultivating strawberry plants, a process that involves taking cuttings to cultivate young plants from high-quality parent plants. These are then sold on to strawberry and raspberry growers across Europe. ‘Because the global soft fruit sector is developing so rapidly, Flevoplant needs to anticipate market trends and developments as early as possible,’ says Managing Director Klaas Niewold. Klaas joined this family business in Ens a year and a half ago. ‘There’s a lot is going on in the sector and Flevoplant has been expanding rapidly in recent years. If we want to continue supporting our clients in the future, it is vital to optimize our own processes and focus on the growing the company as well as our plants.’
Moving to managed cultivation
Flevoplant currently cultivates strawberry plants over around 120 hectares. The company works with a range of contract growers and has also opened a new location in Poland. ‘Until around three years ago, almost all our propagation was done in open soil’, says Niewold. ‘However, there’s also growing demand for tray plants and propagation material grown in greenhouses. Clients’ requirements with regard to quality assurance and delivery are also changing. So for the past year we’ve been renting a 7,000 square metre greenhouse and we’ve been growing in a temporary tray field of 5 hectares. Now we’re expanding by building a further 2.5 hectares of greenhouse.’
Greenhouse cultivation gives Flevoplant more control over quality, production and labour. ‘It means we’re less dependent on the weather conditions and we can make the whole cultivation process greener too,’ explains Klaas. He also adds that sustainability is very important to the company. ‘We try to cultivate the best-quality crop using methods that are as natural as possible and using as few resources as possible. And as an organization, we not only try to work as sustainably as possible, but also as efficiently as possible. In order to achieve those goals, we need to work with innovative partners who can contribute to developing positive solutions.’
One of the creative solutions that Klaas was looking for related to labour and organization. With over 300 employees working during peak season and six varieties of plants that include early-, middle-, late-bearers as well as ever-bearers, Flevoplant urgently needed more insight into its labour scheduling and process flows. ‘Finding and retaining quality employees is a challenge, and so are automation and mechanization. And I’m also very committed to digitizing our internal systems to make workflows clearer, so that we can reduce the time spent working on the product itself.’
Ridder helped this strawberry plant cultivator to achieve these ambitions by setting up various horticulture management systems. In his previous career, Klaas worked in the banking sector, so one of his focuses was the potential of data analysis. ‘In horticulture, there tends to be a lot of gut feeling and guesswork, and to some extent that’s just an inevitable part of running a business. But with my background, I also recognize the importance of logging process data and analysing it, so that decisions can be made based on facts and more efficiency can be built in.’ To achieve those goals, the company turned to Ridder Productive management solutions. ‘All our activities are now tracked using Ridder’s apps. Whether it’s crop treatments, logistics activities or other crop-related activities, we always try to get a clear picture of everything that happens on our plots, in the tray fields and in the greenhouses. By analysing these data systematically, we can organize our processes more efficiently and coordinate our workflows better.’
Flevoplant is one of the first soft-fruit companies to introduce the Ridder iScan app. Using handy data-input devices and scannable NFC tags, activities, operations and locations can be scanned into the system in no time. ‘Scanning is a piece of cake. The app’s intuitive design prevents input errors and ensures that the data logged is reliable and accurate,’ says Klaas. In addition, Flevoplant also uses the Ridder iTeam application; the team leader logs all his team’s operations, like deflowering the strawberry plants for example. ‘Ultimately, we want to introduce the apps into many other parts of the business, so that we not only get more insight into the work done on our plots, but also into transportation between all our fields and locations.’
Consistent cultivation and quality
In addition to improved labour efficiency and better organization, the transition from open soil to tray fields and greenhouses will also create opportunities in terms of irrigation and climate management. For cultivation in the temporary tray field, Ridder partner GST has developed an innovative solution: a Ridder FertiMiX unit was integrated with a special ‘mobile’ container unit, combined with an Aqua CX300 controller. This system means that Flevoplant can automate its entire fertigation strategy in the tray field and adjust the supply of water according to the needs of the crop. ‘That means we have better control over the quality of our plants and we can manage our crop better, always at just the right time.’
In 2019, Flevoplant will expand their cultivation area with the new 2.5-hectare greenhouse that they are building. Ridder solutions will also be used at this location. And the Flevoplant Academy’s demo garden is already using a HortiMaX-Go! controller from Ridder. In this special demo environment, Flevoplant simulates growing conditions that replicate the various set-ups used by their end users. ‘At the Flevoplant Academy, our customers have the chance to look at the different varieties and see the cultivation scenarios in action,’ explains Klaas. ‘We’re also providing more and more support for our customers in the field. After all, we have a lot of knowledge and experience within our organization. By sharing this with our customers, we are able to offer them much more added value.’
Sharing knowledge and working together throughout the production chain is an important aspect of the new path that the family business has chosen. “Labour, sustainability, automation, digitization – in the end you can talk about innovation as much as you want, but to come up with an effective solution, you have to be open to collaboration. That means involving our customers and suppliers in that process. Cooperating with innovative partners like Ridder is another important part of this strategy.’
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