News - June 16, 2015

Sonata and Vivaldi conquer Europe

Albert Sikkema

The production of strawberries in the Netherlands increased again last year, stated the CBS last week. In 2014 54 million strawberries was harvested, 3 million kilo more than in 2013. But the limits of the growth are in sight, says strawberry-breeder Bert Meulenbroek.

The last years the Dutch production of strawberries grows steadily, states Meulenbroek, head Breeding of Fresh Forward, a breeding company for strawberries whereof Wageningen UR is shareholder. ‘In the last 15 years the production has doubled. The last years each year 10 to 20 acres of strawberry cultivation is added, mainly in the greenhouses. Moreover the productivity increases due to improvements in the cultivation. In former times the farmers  harvested 10 kilo per linear meter gutter in the greenhouse, now 13 kilo. In the full soil the production increases due to the development of new breeds.’

When Meulenbroek was still working at Plant Research International, before 2006, he developed strawberry varieties such as Sonata, Vivaldi, Rumba and Jive. These are becoming more important and displace the at the moment legendary Elsanta, the strawberry that was developed forty years ago in Wageningen and still plays a key role in the assortment. But especially Sonata is currently on the rise. Besides some strawberry farmers choose so-called ‘bearers’; breeds that once in bloom constantly continue blooming and producing strawberries.

There is also a tendency that the strawberries are grown increasingly off the ground, as well in the greenhouse as in plastic tunnels. Then the  strawberry plants stand in gutters, an ample meter above the ground. ‘Most important benefits of this system is that it is much more comfortable for the pickers. Also the picking-efficiency –the amount of picked strawberries per hour-is higher.’

All these aspects result in a higher production, but the Dutch did not eat more strawberries. That is why nowadays almost 60 percent of the strawberries are exported. Meulenbroek: ‘The market becomes saturated. The export becomes increasingly difficult, because also in Germany and England more strawberries are cultivated. Although it is one of the few crops with which glasshouse growers  can make money, in the meantime the prices are under pressure.’

If the trend continues, there will be a new production-record this year for strawberries, Meulenbroek has his doubts. ‘The strawberry production in the greenhouses was very good this spring, but the full soil producers have some disadvantages. A lot of plants died because of the high temperatures in recent weeks.'