Marc van Nieuwkerk
Dutch organic grower Marc van Nieuwkerk (53) cultivates Rijk Zwaan varieties of cayenne peppers and habaneros. Even though the habaneros were originally developed in Tanzania for African growers, they grow really well in Dutch greenhouses too. “I’ve been fully SKAL-certified since January 2020. Organic production is challenging but also very rewarding, and thankfully I receive good support from Rijk Zwaan.”
Why did you switch to organics?
“My company in ‘s Gravenzande isn’t very big, it’s just 1.5 hectares. I’ve always grown vegetables in soil and I even produced organic seed for Rijk Zwaan for a while, so it wasn’t a major change when I switched to organic production three years ago. I was already using a lot of natural pest control but I could always fall back on chemicals if necessary, whereas now I’m fully dependent on biology. I’m passionate about this, and I spend as much time as possible in the garden. Vegetables are healthy, and organic vegetables even more so. We produce a resistant crop that grows slowly, which results in flavoursome and healthy products.”
How are things going?
“The first two transitional years were tricky, financially speaking. I was cultivating my products organically but selling them as conventional ones. Biological pest control agents and organic fertilisers are a lot more expensive, of course, but the revenue I generated wasn’t in proportion. I became an officially certified organic grower at the start of 2020. It’s a little tense because you have to put your trust in useful insects and prevent plagues before they can occur. I enjoy it, but it’s also challenging – especially this year, because it’s not clear how COVID-19 will affect the market.”
Why do you grow peppers and habaneros?
“They are terrific crops and unusual products which enable me to serve a niche market. The products work well for me because I have a low-height greenhouse and Dutch summers are getting warmer all the time. I also love eating the peppers, albeit without the seeds because that’s the hottest part!
I have sales contracts with Nature’s Pride which exports my products all over the world. It would be even better if I could sell my products directly to local consumers, but that’s a whole different ball game.”
You started growing African habaneros this year, didn’t you?
“That’s right. Rijk Zwaan’s Maarten van Geest told me about these new African varieties. The red and the yellow habanero. I’m the first organic grower of them on the European continent. The quality of this habanero was very good; I achieved a high percentage of Class 1. I struggled with the setting of the yellow one at first, but Rijk Zwaan Tanzania advised me to use bees and that worked really well. I then suffered a dip in terms of sizes in the middle of the summer, but production picked up again afterwards.”
How would you describe the partnership with Rijk Zwaan?
“Very pleasant. Maarten van Geest takes a proactive, problem-solving approach. If I have any technical questions, he comes to see me straight away. It’s nice to have a sounding board. I also found the contact with Rijk Zwaan Tanzania very beneficial. Besides getting advice about pollination, they also sent me some photos of how they grow the habaneros there. It was great to see how big the plants get under the African sun.”
What are your thoughts on the future of organic production?
“Generally positive. Although the economy has taken a knock, the coronavirus pandemic is driving further growth in demand for healthy and organic products. This market is already big in countries such as Austria and Denmark. Organic production costs more, so the sales price needs to be higher too. This winter I will be doing a course on the Demeter method, which goes a step further. I’m not yet sure whether this biodynamic agriculture approach is right for my company, but I’m interested to find out more.”
Would you like to view our entire organic assortment? Visit our Varieties page.