What is the environmental impact of the Dutch flowerbulb sector?
As web shop Fluwel.eu, we know like no other that the customer is king. Therefore, we will always do our very best to provide for the needs of our customers, and to give them what they want. For the past few years, our customers have been asking us a question that is not only important to them, but also to us as exporter and producer, and that is: what is the environmental impact of the flowerbulb sector? Are the flowerbulbs I am buying in your web shop ‘organic’? Are you, as a flowerbulb company, causing trouble to our environment?
To us, these look like important questions from our customers. The answer is not only for them, but also for us. As flowerbulb growers, we want nothing more than to have a healthy environment for ourselves as well as for our flowerbulbs. That is why we would like to tell you about the environmental impact of the Dutch flowerbulb sector.
We would like to start by distinguishing between a few concepts that are often confused or vague: sustainable, organic, and environment-friendly.
- Sustainable means that something has a long life expectancy. With sustainable improvements, we can provide this day’s generation in their needs, without jeopardizing the needs of any future generations.
- Organic means something has been made of biological materials, or that it has been made during a natural growing process. Organic and biological are synonymic, and organic agriculture and production means that pesticides, herbicides and other products that may cause harm to our environment are used as little as possible, or not at all.
- Environment-friendly means that the natural habitats of plants and animals are taken into account. When we are being environmentally friendly, we try to disturb the natural habitat as little as possible and to permanently change nothing.
Sustainability at Fluwel
What people are wondering is: to which extent can these concepts be applied to Fluwel? Of course, we would like to tell you about that. We would like to discuss our sustainability first.
When we think about sustainability, we do not only think about what happens out on the land, but also about what happens in our warehouse. Then, we are talking mostly about the energy we use. We would first like to tell you that on of our biggest investsments can be found in the Belkmerweg, almost next to Fluwel: our windmill. This windmill annually generates about 5 million kWh. In 2015, the exact number was 5.111.111 kWh. The amount of energy we used that year was 428.459 kWh, which resulted in a surplus of 4.682.652 kWh. We supplied that energy to the energy market, with which we actually contributed to the use of green energy in the Netherlands!
Then, we get to organic. We can promise you that all the flowerbulbs we export, are sent to you in the exact same condition, as they were when they come into our warehouse. We do not add any pesticide, herbicide or chemical protection to the flowerbulbs we receive. From this point of view, it can be said that Fluwel is 100% organic. But, we also get our flowerbulbs imported from other growers. And what exactly has happened to those bulbs, we cannot know. We cannot tell you whether or not those flowerbulbs have ever seen one of those chemical additions, so that is why we would rather tell you about the flowerbulb sector in general, so you can plant your flowerbulbs without any worry this year.
Environmental friendliness in the Dutch flowerbulb sector
The flowerbulb sector has a bad image. It is said that we are bad for the environment because of the extremely high amounts of unsafe, poisonous pesticides and herbicides and the machines that are used on the land and in the warehouse. There is a lot to be said about that idea. The use of pesticides and herbicides cannot be denied, but of course there are very strict rules for the use of those.
Pesticides and herbicides for flowerbulbs need to suffice to the same laws as the pesti- and herbicides used for food. Flowerbulbs are, with the resources that we are allowed to use, never poisonous to humans. We could even eat our tulips (something that actually happened in the Netherlands during World War II). To make sure all these rules are lived up to, the BKD (Bloembollen Keuringsdienst) and other agricultural investigative bodies like the PD (Plantenziektekundige Dienst) exist. They test all the flowerbulbs the growers want to export, so they are actually a sort of flowerbulb-police.
But when did the flowerbulbworld acquire this bad name? That is probably because for some time, it really did harm the environment, in a lot of ways. At the end of the eighties and in the early nineties, there was a lot of attention given tot his problem, and people started to realise that they could change this. Around this time, in the early nineties, the government, the University of Leiden and the flowerbulb growers themselves took action. They made a step-by-step plan to make the flowerbulb sector more environmentally responsible, and to reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides as much as possible. In a report that was set up, the innovation in the flowerbulb sector from 1996 until 2000 is continued. Here, we will tell you about the most important points discussed in this report.
Agreements that were made during this consultation, are captured in the agreement “Uitvoering overeenkomst Milieubeleid Bloembollensector,” meaning “Implementation of the Agreement regarding the Environmental Policy of the Flowerbulbsector.” The agreements were mostly about the use of pesticides and herbicides. A few goals were set, and those have been largely accomplished. There has been way more improvement than what had been planned! Since the nineties, the use of pesticides and herbicides has declined to a level that we did not think we could reach.
There are also other improvements, namely the hybridizing of flowerbulbs. Through the years, hybridizers have managed to, by crossbreeding flowerbulbs, create a more healthy flowerbulb and flower, that is less prone to diseases, which results in the fact that the growers need less pesticides and herbicides to keep a species strong.
Another good example of an environmentally friendly way of fighting diseases is inundation, or: flooding the land. This drowns all nematodes and other undesirable soil life that may harm the flowerbulbs. This is, according to a lot of growers and researchers from Wageningen University, one of the most innovative and environmentally responsible changes in the flowerbulb system ever. In Noord-Holland, there is never a shortage of water, and as an additional benefit: all those flooded areas often bring us beautiful, picturesque scenery.
For some growers, the use of any pesticides and herbicides already belongs to the past. If you are interested, you can read more on the website of Huiberts Flowerbulbs. They are one of the flowerbulb companies that have been able to shut out the use of any chemicals whatsoever. They grow their bulbs ‘in cooperation with nature,’ 100% biologically. This way of growing flowers is luckily getting more and more attention, and it is getting more popular!
But now you may be wondering: why do we doubt the Dutch flowerbulb industry so much?
The use of pesticides and herbicides has been questioned by bodies like HZL (Het Zijper Landschap; before this known as Houd Zijpe Leefbaar). They have expressed their concern about the flowerbulb sector in a television programme and they have questioned the quality of the inspections performed by the CTGB. The CTGB, the College voor de Toelating van Gewasbeschermingsmiddelen en Biociden, literally translated to the College for the Admission of Crop Protection and Biocides, is a Dutch government instance that tests all pesticides and herbicides, but also controls the use of those very strictly. We of Fluwel are confident about the knowledge of the CTGB. They are the ones who make sure that the flowerbulb sector commits to the same requirements as the food industry.
There were also doubts about the risks of the chemicals for the growers and the people living around the flowerbulb fields. Because the CTGB never specifically researched this, the HZL requested the University of Utrecht to do this. In this report, the author investigated whether the used chemicals could be found in the house dust of growers and people living around the fields. Six of the molecules used in the chemicals were found in the houses of some of the growers. Three of the substances were found in the houses of the people living around the fields. But, as the report itself clearly puts, this only says something about whether or not the molecules can be indicated. The risks remain unknown, but it was also proven that the amount of each substance was so low that any health risk at all is almost fully excluded. It also needs to be said that this investigation was done in 2002. That does not seem that long ago, but biological innovation in the flowerbulb sector goes very fast.
Another body that calls for more attention to the environmental impact of the flowerbulb sector is Stichting Bollenboos. However, this body is settled in Drenthe and focuses on the pesticides used for lilies. Lilies are a much more complicated crop, and the amount of chemicals used on lilies is therefore much higher. Lilies simply need a lot more protection to make sure the bulbs do not rot away. Fluwel does not have any lilies, so we also do not have to deal with the rules that go with the lilies.
Why do we use pesticides and herbicides?
What remains is the question why we need these chemicals. One of those reasons is the fact that the flowerbulbs need to be tested very thoroughly before they can be exported to another country. They need to be absolutely free of any known disease. This is, at a big scale, for an average grower, completely impossible without the use of a chemical aid. Some growers will therefore say that it was simply a bit stupid that the BKD ever agreed on those strict rules for flowerbulb export. The growers themselves know very well that what does remain on the bulb after a healthy year in the ground is completely innocent and harmless. But unfortunately, the rules are here, and we need to stick to them.
What also plays its part is the fact that the Dutch flowerbulb sector does not have its own research unit. There is no specific research to which pesticides and/or herbicides need to be used for flowerbulbs, and that is why they are not used as effectively as what might be possible. That the flowerbulb sector does not have her own research centre, is a result of the fact that overall, flowerbulb export is only a small part of the total Dutch export market. There is simply no budget to investigate which pesticides and herbicides need to be used for flowerbulbs. That is why we need to work with the resources we have, and therefore flowerbulbs often get chemicals that are effective on plants, food or fruit trees. This is why we know that we can theoretically do better, but we cannot, because there is no time and money for it. This is not only frustrating for you and the environment, but also for the growers themselves!
The use of energy
Next to the use of pesticides and herbicides, we can have a look at the use of energy. Wageningen University does research regarding these subjects. From this research, a few conclusions can be drawn:
At the pictures underneath, you can see on the left that the general use of energy at flowerbulb companies has also been lowering since 2008. On the right, we see a rise in use of green, sustainable energy. These are positive changes, and companies will make sure that these changes will be able to develop in favour of our environment.
What do we think?
At Fluwel, we draw the conclusion that the flowerbulb sector is not harmless for the environment, but also that we are making big leaps forward. The use of energy has declined, the amount of pesticides and herbicides has decreased to a level we did not think we would be able to accomplish and that level is even lower than the government intentionally wanted, and, not unimportant, there has never been any sign that growers or people living around the flower fields have been harmed by the industry whatsoever. We also want to point out that it is not the case that the grower only cares about his export income and not about the consequences for the environment. Flowerbulb growers are people who love to be outside, who walk in their flower fields day in day out when their flowers are in bloom, so of course they would not want to harm the environment. Growers find it terrible when their daffodils have been cooked too much or when bad ground results in a bad harvest. We as a flowerbulbcompany are therefore first in line when it comes tot his journey to make the flowerbulb sector environment-friendly. We will make sure that we will be able to do this under healthy circumstances as good and as long as we possibly can.
Kees de Wit, CEO Fluwel, 24/06/2016
Kees de Wit, CEO Fluwel 24/06/2016