Large scale horticulture

Den Berk

Lighting makes this company a reliable partner for the retail sector

A straightforward corporate philosophy is what drives the rapid development of Den Berk, a tomato growing company in Merksplas, Belgium. ‘We want to be a reliable partner for the retail sector and to create added value for our buyers. Assimilation lighting is a logical element in this strategy. Gavita gave us the best guarantees for the light level we proposed.’ 

Today, the situation on the tomato market means that every producer has to answer this question: how can I become so attractive to the buyer that we can form a permanent relationship? In 2008, tomato growers Luc Beirinckx and Koen Lauwerysen joined forces: it was the start of a development with no end in sight. By now, they are growing tomatoes together on 62 acres at Den Berk, the company they run together in the Hoogstraten horticultural area in Belgium, and on another 33 acres at their own companies. They also collaborate with Benteltom, a specialist in unique varieties, and are exploring possibilities for other partnerships. They supply a wide assortment, including specialties that are occupying an increasingly greater percentage of their products, all sold under the Den Berk Délice brand. 

‘You have to be able to supply large uniform quantities of high quality’, says Lauwerysen. ‘Only then will you be an attractive partner for the retail sector.’

Van den Berk

Generating added value

But large volumes are only the first step towards a permanent partnership. Even more important is generating added value for your buyer. ‘This means not only delivering products in the required packaging at the required intervals, but also coming up with new proposals yourself’, says the grower ‘We develop and present types of packaging for the retail sector and make it possible for them to conduct tastings using a special taster’s box. We make suggestions and take on the challenges faced by retailing. This is the kind of real support the sector needs. Ideally, you should proactively design the entire crop plan according to their requirements. One way to do this is to introduce new varieties that respond to the market’s demands.’

This would have some major consequences for the producer’s facilities. At Den Berk, this has meant the construction of a large climate-controlled packaging facility that can satisfy a wide range of requirements. This work could be subcontracted, but you would then lose control of the packaging process. This approach, however, is all about the perfect design of every step of the marketing process.

Year-round supply

Being a reliable partner for the retail sector also means providing a year-round supply. After all, the fact that the natural light levels in Belgium are low during the winter is of no concern to the buyer. ‘We tried supplementing our supply with products from other countries to meet the winter demand, but it didn’t really work’, says Lauwerysen. ‘If we want to guarantee our high levels of quality and flavor, we have to control all the factors ourselves. This means using assimilation lighting so that we can deliver the required product volumes at the right time. We used to maintain a standard planting time of 1 October for lighting. Now, we distribute the planting times over various companies from July until October. This way, we make sure that we can supply the required quantities as based on the demand.’

Deciding on HPS

Den Berk decided in favor of SON-T lamps. Lauwerysen follows the development in LEDs with interest but is convinced they will not exclude the use of HPS lamps. ‘We need the heat produced by the lamps for our crop. Even if LEDs make significant inroads in the future as they become cheaper, tomato production will continue to use a combination of HPS and LED’, he believes. 

When selecting a supplier, these two growers looked at their options very carefully. All were considered and Gavita emerged from the decision-making process as the best one. ‘When you run a business, you oblige yourself to work only with reliable partners. Gavita gave us the best guarantees for the light level’, he says. ‘What’s more, they provided us with suggestions for all of our processes. This was an added value for sure.’

The lighting plan was designed as based on studies and calculations, which then determined the choice of lamp and luminaire types. ‘Once installed, test measurements were taken for verification. These demonstrated that the light levels we had agreed upon were actually being realized in our greenhouses. We were very pleased with this’, says the grower.

Storing the luminaires

The tomato growing company opts to remove all of its luminaires and clean them before storing them for the summer. This way, they will not accumulate dust or eliminate any sunlight. ‘Gavita listened to how we operate and devised a storage system using crates so the removal and storage processes can be done quickly and easily’, he says.

They have the reflectors cleaned by a contract worker during the summer period. ‘We were amazed at how much this improved the light output. It really pays to take all this effort. We’re pleased that we chose these luminaires. We appreciate the kind of cooperation we get from Gavita. They inform us about new developments and help us find solutions for our situation. This way of working is a perfect fit for our philosophy of partnership that we implement throughout the supply chain from supper to buyer.’