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Interview with Anthurium nursery Wijnen

In Holland, we have to deal increasingly with extreme weather conditions. Nearly a year ago, the Anthurium greenhouse of Joan and Nancy Wijnen was badly hit by severe summer weather. We spoke with Joan and Nancy Wijnen about the impact and the consequences of these damages, about more than 30 years of growing Anthuriums, and about their experiences with selling Anthurium flowers to consumers.

Nancy and Joan Wijnen

‘’The company’s history is special. Together with my wife Nancy, I took over the company from my father in 1986. He grew Anthurium in a 6,000 m2 greenhouse. Between 1988 and 1999, we expanded the business several times until achieving a glazed surface area of 2.4 hectares. After the turn of the millennium, the demand for Anthurium continued to grow and we decided to build a new greenhouse 150 metres further on. This extension was carried out in 2003 (1.5 ha) and in 2004 (1.2 ha). Currently we grow 20 varieties, which we sell at the auctions in Aalsmeer, Eelde and Herongen (D). We also deliver directly to some garden centres and florists. In 2019, it will be 50 years since my father started growing Anthurium.”

More than 200 hectares of glass greenhouses and crops had to be written off. It is impossible to fight against hailstones as large as a fist. The following day, the damage became even clearer. In the 5 hectare greenhouse, more than 80% of the windows appeared to be broken.

You were at the back of the greenhouse with a group of people on a guided tour and literally had to run for your life. How does this affect you as?
“We were indeed with a group of people in the greenhouse. Fortunately, we managed to get away in time. The moment itself you do not realise what is happening.” says Joan. Nancy: “The sound of falling glass and the impacts on the roof of the barn is what impressed me most. When the storm moved away, the glass was lying 10 cm high on the centre path.” Joan continues: “Of course this has an emotional impact, but within half an hour I was calling the insurance company, glass suppliers and glaziers. Afterwards it seemed that this presence of mind was an important decision which had a huge impact on the further reparation process. We were one of the first companies to take action and could fall back on a reliable service provider for greenhouse cover reparation. That turned out to be a determining factor.”

As an entrepreneur you have to cope with ups and downs, but with a hailstorm like the one on that particular summer evening, the continuity of the company is jeopardized.
“In consultation with the insurance company, we opted to save the crop. Three months of growing in a ‘convertible’ greenhouse. Our priority was the health of the crop and the prevention of leaf burning. Fortunately, the screen was not closed during the storm and although a lot of wires were cut, we could still shade manually. Of course, first it had to be safe to enter the greenhouse, so the glass had to be removed from the cover and the crop. During glazing, the screen cloth had to be open and to protect the plant against burning, we installed three layers of acrylic cloth over the crop to achieve the desired shading level. Later on, it seemed to be too heavy, so we made tunnels. Then it turned out that it got too hot under the screen, so we lifted the screen at the sides of the tunnel. Between 10:00 and 17:00, we wet the screens continuously with the sprinkler head. This also turned out to be a learning process, because in the back part of the greenhouse the plants suffered a lot less. At a certain moment you know how to handle it, but first you have to discover it all by yourself. Fortunately, we could count on people from Anthura and Bureau IMAC. There are many more companies and people that sympathised with us and helped us a lot.

According to the step counter on my telephone, I walked 20 km a day during that period. It feels good when you receive support.” Nancy can only endorse this.

What suggestions would you give growers when having to cope with such a calamity at their company?
Joan is clear about it: ‘’Take action immediately, call the insurance company, the glass supplier and the glaziers. When ordering the glass, confirm the delivery, the quantity as well as the sizes. An entrepreneur further down was delivered a truck of glass at a given time, but it appeared to be the wrong size. Make sure you compose a well-substantiated damage report, take pictures and film the damage. Moving pictures often say a lot more compared to photographic material. Choose (as far as possible) the right partners to work with. From previous assignments, I knew the companies TST and DEGO for greenhouse cover reparation. They have access to experienced teams with glaziers, who we owe a lot. Every week we treated them to a piece of cake from the local baker’s and eight weeks later to a BBQ; we certainly showed our appreciation. Finally, continue to communicate with the insurance company.

It is almost a year later; where are you now with your crops and company?
“The plants have become ‘lazy’. The long shading time and the large quantity of water have resulted in very thick heads. Consequently, the flower size has increased considerably, but they are by no means at the former level.’’ Nancy continues: “Before the hailstorm the crops were beautiful, it was a pleasure to walk through the greenhouse. We had planned to replace only 2,000 m2 this year, but it has turned out to be 16,000 m2. In 2018 we will have to replace another 1,500 m2 as a result of the damage. Currently we are producing at 60% and we still have a long way to go, but we were aware of that in advance, when we opted for this approach.”

Speaking of ups and downs, where do you get your drive as an entrepreneur?
“I am a grower in heart and soul. Growing is what I like best and what gives me a lot of satisfaction. I also manage to sell, when it comes to direct trade. But I am not a ‘computer man’. When I look back, I realize that entrepreneurship was taught at home. You don’t have to be smart, but you do have to understand how it works,” explains Joan.

Ten years ago Anthura introduced young leaf breaking as a cultivation method. What challenges did you encounter?
“I first looked at the tests and at growers who had already started applying this cultivation method in practice on large surface areas. This prevented me from making huge mistakes in the cultivation. In the end, not every variety is suitable for young leaf breaking. I chose the right strategy according to the variety. The greatest advantage is the saving on labour. The major challenge for me is to achieve a high-end production with flowers of excellent quality.”

What are you doing to make Anthurium interesting for potential customers?
As I said before, we are growing 20 different varieties. We focus on customers who are looking for quality. By accurate sorting we are able to provide a reliable product. With a surface of over 5 hectares, we can also meet large demands. This means one-stop-shopping for the customer.

What about your shop, Nancy? You sell a lot of flowers directly to consumers.
“That’s right, in 2009 we started selling slightly damaged flowers. The shop quickly became well-known and when a grower in the neighbourhood stopped selling Anthurium bouquets, we continued the business. We were able to attract the interest of his clients to order bouquets with us and this was the basis. Our customers at the shop are very enthusiastic about the product. People sometimes come from very far and know exactly what they want: they visit our shop especially for Anthurium. Word-of-mouth advertising works to our advantage and for a few years now our daughter Daniek has been the driving force behind our social media. Facebook is an important medium, which allows us to reach existing and new customers.

We offer a wide assortment and employ four flower arrangers who each have their own individual style. This is important, because this way we can present the right bouquet for each taste. The older consumer comes to our shop for the long shelf life of Anthurium while younger consumers go for the appearance. Varieties like Previa® and Alero® are perfectly in line with young people. Thanks to the shop, we have a good understanding of what people want. Nowadays, we almost only sell the best quality in our shop. So thanks to the shop we have a lot of contact with consumers and we know one thing for sure: consumers are very enthusiastic about Anthurium and they consider it a modern flower.”

What message would you send the readers of Anthurinfo?
‘’As an entrepreneur, you should maintain your drive, even in the case of setbacks. It is mainly about perseverance! The damages were enormous, but during the past months we have taken important steps to get our company back on track. We are seeing the crops grow again and the next challenges are awaiting us in terms of sales. The next five years, collaboration and more direct trade will be high on our priority list.”

This article is part of the Anthurinfo – edition 2 / 2017. For the complete edition, click here.