Research visit to the Netherlands to study aspects of Nerine production

Visit to the Netherlands - Sunday 27th September

Meet with Kitty de Jong and visit Agro Fleur Select

A couple of weeks before I was due to leave, I downloaded a Dutch language program to learn some key phrases. I set off on Saturday 26th September 2015, staying overnight in Bristol as I needed to check-in at Bristol Airport just after 05:00 on Sunday morning. Travelling from Bristol to Amsterdam was straightforward and I listened to more Dutch language lessons on the plane. I touched down first thing Sunday morning and made my way by taxi to a small town called Nieuw-vennep, about 10 minutes from Amsterdam Schipol Airport, where Kitty de Jong and her father, Kees de Jong, collected me. We drove to the premises of Kitty’s company, Agro Fleur Select, in Roelofarendsveen, which was to be my base for the week.

Agro Fleur Select – commercial Nerine producer

Kees showed me around the premises and explained a little about what they do.They produce cut flowers and bulbs, which are sold at auctions for retail and export. The premises at Roelofarendsveen are mainly under glass with a small open area backing on to the waterway to the rear of the property. It seemed like an expanse of glasshouse with several species for cut flowers including Nerine bowdenii, ‘Favourite’, ‘Nikita’, ‘Patricia’, ‘Stefanie’, ‘Isabel’, ‘Bianca Perla’, ‘Vesta’ and Nerine Companion ‘MrJohn’. Unique varieties are produced by Agro Fleur Select, including Amarine belladiva and bi­colour Nerines. It is also unique in the flower industry for women to run the company as Kitty and her sister Wendy do.The new varieties produced by Agro Fleur Select command a good price and some bulbs have multiple flower stalks at one time. Breeders make crosses to get new varieties, which are grown on, tested, named and multiplied before being released on to the market. An example of this is crosses between bowdenii and sarniensis. It takes four years from seed to flower, but can take 10 years from crossing to produce enough material to release a new product. Seedlings stay in the ground for one to two years after being sown under glass. This is not a problem with soil diseases but they do require protection in the winter to avoid frost damage.

Pest and disease issues faced by commercial growers

Issues faced by commercial Nerine growers include viruses, thrips, nematodes and fusarium disease. An annual hot water treatment provides some protection against nematodes and fusarium but thrips are controlled by spraying and hygienic glass house practice. Viruses are controlled by identification and removal of infected plants where necessary. Virus spread is also reduced by controlling virus vectors and not using knives when flower cutting. Virus is not seen as a huge problem for the industryas long as it is kept under control, although virus can affect the yield or flowering of some types. Virus-free plants do have a place in the supply chain as producers should sell virus-free plants/bulbs. Export regulations determine the level of virus allowed in propagation material. For some countries it is zero tolerance but others have different regulations.

Production and propagation

The soil in the glass house was dark, spongy and wet, which was a surprise as I expected a sandy soil. When I asked Kees about this he informed me that here the soil is mainly peat but they have a predominantly sandy soil outdoor growing area and also an outdoor clay soil type growing area in a different location. Each soil type has beneficial properties linked to that stage of the process. Noordwijkerhout(sand) is used for flower and bulbs, Creil (clay) is used for bulbs growth only and Roelofarendsveen (peat) is used for flowers and bulbs.
Different varieties are stored at different temperatures and for different durations after lifting to manipulate flowering time in order to provide an extended flowering period. For example N. bowdenii types are stored at 2°C, Elegance types at 15°C and Amarine belladiva at 20°C. The flowering period is controlled by cycles of planting, lifting and storing. For example, outdoor grown bulbs are stored and then planted under glass to make them flower quicker that season. Agro Fleur Select has three areas of Nerines growing in the Netherlands and links to Portugal, Ecuador and Chile.

Some plants here have been traditionally propagated by offsets and chipping and some have been produced using micropropagation techniques. Micropropagation is more expensive and can cause a problem if disease takes hold as they are all clones and can succumb more easily as there is less variation among the population. It is therefore risky to produce micropropagated plants of 50 or 100k. If a new variety is decided worthy of mass production then 5k at a time will be produced using the micropropagation laboratory.

I had lunch at Kitty’s house and we went by boat around the waterways and lake close to her home. The boat belonged to her father andwas beautiful. It was perfect weather for a trip out on the water, fresh and breezy but warm in the afternoon sun.We stopped for a coffee at a café that used to be the site of an historical flower and bulb auction, where they are restoring an original auction clock as a community project. I operated the lock to pass through into the inner waterways adjoining the lake, which operate on a number of levels. Kitty has visited Nicholas de Rothschild’s collection and wants to travel to the UK soon to visit Nerine growers and breeders. I have invited her to stay in Cornwall.

Sunday Gallery