Thrips turns out to be a nuisance for Colombian chrysanthemum growers, too. They treat the problem mostly with chemicals. These are some of the conclusions of a group of Dutch chrysanthemum growers, who visited the South American country on a study trip in the beginning of September.
The Dutch chrysanthemum growers had hoped, and half expected, to find some biological solutions for pests such as thrips. Colombian companies have been working on things like fungal spore concentrations for many years and apparently they’re also ahead in stimulating active soil life. Their production adds to the existing crops, but also to crop protection, is the prevailing thought.
But after visiting a few nurseries and talking to growers, the conclusion was that thrips, agromyzidae and spider mite were mostly fought using chemicals. Most growers spray around twice a week. And the pesticides that are used, make the use of above ground predatory mites and other useful insects more or less impossible, as they tend to be broad-spectrum products. Pesticides that were taken of the market in the Netherlands years ago.
Do biological control agents not provide any added value in Colombia? That’s difficult to say and details regarding the production and composition of pesticides weren’t really shared. Some quick soil analyses during the company visits didn’t reveal an awful lot of predatory mites or any other visible activity. But that’s only at first sight – with the use of a microscope, beneficial organisms might be detected. Conclusion: it’s difficult to compare infection levels and crop protection (agents and their effect), but biological crop protection doesn’t seem to be the perfect solution in Colombia either.
The study trip to Colombia was organised by consultancy agency Ideavelop and breeder Dümmen Orange. The main focus was on chrysanthemum, but they also visited some growers and traders with a broader assortment in Bogota and Medellin.
The group consisted mostly of chrysanthemum breeders and growers from the Netherlands and it didn’t take them long to conclude that product quality was not comparable to that at home. They felt that certain things could be improved, especially with regards to plant density and the quality of the cuttings.
But considering the production circumstances – open greenhouses and hardly any heating – the end product exceeded their expectations. The nurseries did look good. Major pluses in Colombia are the vast experience (at least 40 years) in the floricultural industry and the favourable climate with many hours of sunshine. New assortment (from Dutch breeders) has positively contributed to the production.
Some of the Dutch chrysanthemum growers had visited Colombia before and they noticed that a few things had changed over the years. The biggest difference is that they no longer saw any long stems; growth regulation using Daminozide is commonplace now and no longer restricted to the sections with produce for the European market. The raised beds, created with wooden planks, were also gone. Crops are grown full-field, but the paths are still quite wide.
Priority for logistics and distribution
The biggest difference between the floricultural industry in the Netherlands and in Colombia concern logistics and distribution. Many Colombian companies organise these aspects in-house. Some of them even have their own bouquet making companies and sales offices in North America. Logistical costs are fairly high and the logistics are quite complex too; the required transport capacity isn’t always available.
The organisers of the study trip explained that when Colombian growers make investments, they have to think of totally different things than growers in the Netherlands. Should I spend my money on consumer marketing, cargo transport, post-harvest mechanisation or on increasing the production?
Even though there are improvements to be made with regards to production, there aren’t too many growers who choose to invest in that particular area. That’s because in Colombia, most of the money is made at the end of the chain, not in the beginning. And those earnings are good, especially at the large, modern companies, concluded the growers at the end of their study trip. The smaller nurseries don’t survive though. Around 10 groups of growers are currently responsible for 80% of the chrysanthemum production in Colombia (700 ha).
The investment climate in Colombia is very different from that in the Netherlands. The interest rate is 13-14%, inflation is 7-10% per year and the ROI (Return On Investment) generally has to stay within 2 – 3 years. Investments generally come from the cashflow and any funds available for production are generally spent on expansion rather than intensification. Land is fairly expensive. The peso is cheap, which highlights the difference between production costs and earnings (mostly received in dollars; 85% of the stems goes to North America). The exchange rate of the peso is strongly related to the oil price.
This study trip was organised by consultancy agency Ideavelop and breeder Dümmen Orange. Ideavelop also hosted a webinar about Colombia earlier this year. The organisers feel that there are certainly opportunities for collaboration between Dutch and Colombian growers.