Dutch brothers grow Cymbidiums in Guatemala: ‘Our partner thinks big, that’s for sure’

With regards to floriculture, there are currently two Dutch producers in Guatemala: the Valstar brothers (Cymbidium) and Ter Laak brothers (Phalaenopsis). Jan Valstar recently explained how he and his brother ended up in Guatemala. He did this at a  meeting of Jungle Talks, Rabobank and Holland Horti International about the possibilities to invest in horticulture in Mexico and Guatemala.

The Valstars were growing cymbidium on a 25,000-m2 plot in ‘s-Gravenzande, in the Dutch Westland region. They’re currently expanding with another 5,000 m2. Their company is called Star Orchids. Jan got talking to Sergio van Loon, at the Trade Fair Aalsmeer in 2013. Van Loon was general manager with Flores Bohemians in Guatemala at the time, and he was looking for someone who could grow cymbidiums for the company in Guatemala. “Something I’d always dreamed of”, said Valstar sarcastically.

The reality was that he and his brother Wim had never had any plans to set up a business abroad. Jan: „We didn’t exactly like travelling.” But somehow, Van Loon’s story appealed, so that same evening, they looked up where exactly Guatemala was on the map, and a month later, Jan was on the plane to Central America.

Holland Orchids

Their Guatemalan partner – the Gonzales family – had already been growing strelitzia on an 18-ha outdoor site. American customers wanted more flowers, and in consultation with them, cymbidium had come up as an option. And to grow cymbidium in Guatemala, the family needed the Valstar brothers. They did, after all, have years of experience.

The Gonzales family demanded the same quality that the Valstars produce in the Netherlands. To which the brothers said it would require the right tools. Just tell us what you need, was their partner’s response.

The partners bought a 15-ha plot, at 2,200 meters altitude, where temperatures don’t reach more than 25 degrees, with good ground water and gas heating. The 1-ha greenhouse is made of foil. There’s plenty of light. The greenhouses are coated with chalk all year round and they use shades too. A second hectare is under construction.

The Valstars are now partners with Holland Orchids. The Gonzalez’ business is huge, said Valstar. They’re also involved in rum, sugar cane, ceramics and power plants. “They wanted us to become partners, because partners are more engaged.”

The Valstars are responsible for the cultivation and business operations. They mostly do this remotely. That isn’t a problem as long as you’ve got a manager with good English skills. They log in twice a day themselves, to check the climate data. Their partner takes care of sales.

Everlasting spring

Holland Orchids is slowly getting where it wants to be, according to Jan Valstar. Thanks to the everlasting spring season, the quality of the flowers is the same as in the Netherlands.

Labour is a challenge, though. Guatemalans are keen, but they don’t perform to the same standard as Dutch workers, Jan told. “And the production costs aren’t exactly lower there than in the Netherlands. That’s because of labour. The Guatemalans work slowly.”

Holland Orchids will be entering the first production season in September. “That’s when we find out whether we’ll actually be selling all our flowers all the time. Our plan for the future is to expand, but at what rate, that remains to be seen. Our partner thinks big, that’s for sure”, said Jan Valstar. The current facilities for heat and water allow for an expansion up to 4 ha.

Valstar expects that the land next to their greenhouses will be used for other crops eventually. It’s currently in use for beans. They’re also curious to see how the internet sales of Holland Orchids’ cut cymbidiums is going to develop. It’s quite easy to predict the harvesting time for the flowers. That means that florists can order the exact flowers they want via the Internet weeks in advance. “That gives us eight weeks to sell a flower. Whether it’s really going to work like that in practice? I’ll be able to tell you that in two, three years’ time.”

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