Dec 30, 2011
Dutch, Belgian nurseries offer growers alternatives

Last summer, members of the International Fruit Tree Association (IFTA) got to visit two European tree fruit nurseries: Verbeek in the Netherlands and Carolus in Belgium.

Both nurseries are known and respected in the international tree fruit industry, said Neal Manly, who helped organize the July IFTA bus tour of England, the Netherlands and Belgium. Manly, sales manager for Willow Drive Nursery in Ephrata, Wash., said the Dutch nursery, Verbeek, focuses more on the knip boom system, which originated in the Netherlands. Carolus focuses more on the fruiting wall concept, which spread north to Belgium from its origin in France.

Janus Verbeek, who’s still active with the nursery, founded Verbeek about five decades ago. The company is based in Steenbergen, in the southwest corner of the Netherlands.

Today, Verbeek produces more than 1.5 million fruit trees per year, and has about 360 acres of nursery land available. The company also grows about 50 acres of its own fruit. Verbeek employs about 100 people total, said Henk Nooteboom, Verbeek’s sales director.

Verbeek sells its nursery trees to growers all over Europe, mainly in the Netherlands but also in Germany and Belgium. It also has customers in places as various as the United States and Iraq, and plans to sell trees in Afghanistan. About 60 percent of the trees Verbeek sells are apple trees, with pear trees taking up most of the remainder, Nooteboom said.

Verbeek has a “zero tolerance” crop protection policy, he said. The nursery utilizes crop rotation to avoid growing trees on sick soil; it plants certified, virus-free plant material; it sprays every week; trees are placed in cold storage after removal. Much of the company’s operations are mechanized, he said.

Verbeek develops top tree fruit varieties through “classical plant breeding” and new breeding techniques, such as DNA marker-assisted breeding. The breeding program focuses on taste, disease resistance, tree architecture and health, Nooteboom said.

Nooteboom showed the IFTA visitors a field of three-month-old knip boom pear trees. The 48-acre field contained about half a million trees, he said.

Belgium’s Carolus nursery is based in Nieuwerkerken, in the eastern part of the country. Carolus sells trees all over Europe and also in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand – even Kazakhstan. The nursery is still looking for customers in the United States, said Koen Carolus, who manages the family business.

Carolus grows about 50 acres of its own fruit, too, he said.
Koen showed the IFTA visitors one of his company’s nursery fields. For him, everything comes back to the term “production volume.” Consistently sized, intensive, fast-growing apple and pear trees must be produced in volumes growers can work with. Quality must be consistent year after year as well, in order to keep customers coming back. Carolus can adapt its trees to different orchard management systems, especially if the orders are placed far enough in advance, he said.

By Matt Milkovich, Managing Editor

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