Tomorrow is the last day of our floricultural study tour in Ontario, Canada. We’ll visit two more companies and after that, we’re flying back to Amsterdam. Our impression of this region has been very positive. The companies that we visited are all doing well, they’re investing, there’s a future for them and they deliver high quality products.
But it doesn’t all happen by itself of course. As I mentioned in two of my previous blogs, they’ve also experienced a difficult ten-year period here, during which many companies had to give up. The companies that survived, need to show top performance every single day. One of our travel companions described it as ‘playing in the Champions League’ all the time.
On our last night here, we went out for a beer with a few of the local growers, and as we sat down, I pointed out how it seems that the Canadian growers are walking a very fine line. The dollar is strong, but it could collapse any time.
The role of auctions – we visited one and there’s another one in Montreal – is minimal, most growers sell their produce by themselves. Many of them probably go to bed at night feeling quite anxious, as if they’ve got to sit an exam the next day. Will I be able to sell my plants or flowers tomorrow? Will I pass?
Earlier today, we drove through the snow to St. David’s Hydroponics, a nursery with 40 hectares of peppers and 7 hectares of aubergine. Learning a bit more about an associated branch can’t hurt after all.
Antoine van der Knaap explained that pepper prices are determined by the global market. Their competition comes mainly from Mexico and from Florida and California, where they’re grown outdoors. When North American prices increase strongly, they’ll import peppers from the Netherlands. Dutch peppers are also dumped in Canada sometimes. That’s pretty much how it works with flowers too. Price formation is determined by the global market.
So, it was snowing today. Prince once sang ‘Sometimes It Snows in April’. That’s definitely true for Ontario. But growers can’t complain about the past winter. Apart from a few days, it didn’t get extremely cold. The thermometer indicated above zero today. It felt like it was 20 degrees colder, though. The icy wind chilled us to the bone.
Ontario is waiting for spring. At the moment, the landscape still resembles that of Eastern Europe. It reminds me of driving through Poland. Grey and very barren. Countless (fruit) trees are waiting for leaves and fruit. Cherry trees, plum trees and grapevines. The wineries don’t have much to do at the moment, but this will be completely different in a few months time. Hordes of tourists will come over to enjoy Ontario’s magnificent landscape and to visit the vineyards and Niagara Falls.
Pim Boekestijn of Virgil Greenhouses said that the acreage of grapevines in Ontario amounts to 4,000 hectares. Not surprising really, considering the fact that the southern part of Ontario is on the same latitude as Marseille. Cold winters and hot summers make for different growing conditions here.
Boekestijn will find out for himself how this impacts his ranunculus cultivation. He’s been growing freesia for many years and he’s got two enthusiastic successors lined up: his son and son-in-law. In addition to freesia, he started growing ranunculus. The coming time is all about learning more. Will the varieties Success, Pompon and Elegance provide him with a large enough production? It still remains to be seen.
Almost 100% of the pot plant and flower growers in this region have Dutch roots. A large number of people came over in the seventies. And more growers came over in the nineties. Emigration of Dutch growers to Canada has gone down the last couple of years. One of the first to arrive was probably the father of Clarence and Stuart van Staalduinen, of Bayview Flowers. He and his wife emigrated to Canada in 1948.
Funnily enough, out of all the growers that we met, the one with the longest family history in Canada happens to have a non-Dutch background. When we visited Schenck Farms and Greenhouses today, Lou Schenck told us that one of his ancestors moved from the Alsace region to Canada in 1840. They began with the cultivation of fruit and vegetables at the end of the 19th century. After World War II, they expanded with pot plants and flowers.
The company tour of his nursery was like a tour of Canadian floricultural history. We were walking around nearly indestructible greenhouses from 1934, 1951, 1966 and more recent years as well. An interesting experience.
“If I ever have the money to demolish all the greenhouses and move elsewhere, I will”, said Schenck. But for the time being, that isn’t on the cards. The property where he and his ancestors have been working for all those years, will continue to be horticultural land for now. At least, Ontario is sure to keep its own regional museum of horticultural history that way.