Back in 2006, blueberry farmer Renco Bussemaker could not have imagined winning an entrepreneur award with his organisation ‘Telerscollectief Coöperatieve Blauwe Bes Drenthe’. These days his cooperative of 123 acres is the supplier of the popular blueberry for The Greenery, a large procurement organisation in the Netherlands. Besides his role of farmer, he is also a retailer. On the side of the road, you can find blueberries to snack on from July to October during the harvest season inside a blueberry vending machine.
Bussemaker joined forces with fellow farmers Roel Koops and Roelof IJken in 2006 to be supplier for ‘The Greenery’ who wanted to shift to offering Dutch blueberries in the supermarket. This is in stark contrast to some Dutch supermarkets who source blueberries from Poland for the local Dutch market.
Standing stronger together
Bussemaker remains down-to-earth: “I would recommend the cooperative format. It is about putting our heads together and a willingness to cooperate. We each have around 37 acres of blueberries which we store in our communal warehouse. In addition, we also share our machinery equipment. It doesn’t make any sense to keep an expensive berry harvester machine to yourself.”
This practical farmer group also form one big united party in their contact with clients and that has significant financial benefits. Similar benefits also come from collective advertising.
Lengthening harvest with 4 varieties
The Coöperatieve Blauwe Bes Drenthe uses four different varieties: the Duke, Draper, Liberty and Aurora. “We have deliberately selected these four varieties because this allows us to spread out the harvest as much as possible," says Bussemaker.
"In this way, the harvest runs from the beginning of July until mid-September. The varieties succeed one another, which means that we have a steady and controlled production of blueberries.”
To learn more about the full blueberry chain, watch the video about the whole process from the cooperative Blauwe Bes Drenthe.
Price, wages and other pesky challenges
Bussemaker finds three main challenges in his work, the first being the price and the wages. The second issue is the damage caused by birds. “Starlings eat everything here. I always say that we have the healthiest starlings in the neighbourhood.” The third problem for the organisation is the fruit flies where several different types of technology are used to control the fruit fly population.
What is the opinion of the sector specialist?
Arne Bac, Sector Specialist, Rabobank Food & Agri Netherlands
It is good to see how through good cooperation these entrepreneurs managed to achieve a better position where the growing and selling of blueberries is concerned than each would have individually. The motto ‘If you can’t share, you can’t multiply’ clearly applies to these entrepreneurs. We often see that in ascending markets, sharing tends to be difficult. These blueberry farmers prove otherwise. The consumption of blueberries rises each year and this is not a hype, but an important trend. Dutch blueberry production has increased at a slower pace than the consumption volume, while at the same time local produce has become increasingly popular with Dutch consumers. I would therefore be interested in hearing how these entrepreneurs view their future.
Advice for young farmers
Bussemaker doesn’t beat around the bush. “You really need to have a passion for what you do, otherwise it is doomed to fail. It is also very important to distinguish yourself from everyone else.”
The cooperative format helps in this regard. According to the berry farmer, working in a sustainable way is necessary to ensure the survival of the organisation in the future. “We try to get the highest possible yield from the same resources. For example, we make jam and juice from the imperfect blueberries, then sell in our store on Saturdays.”
For those who think blueberries can only be eaten with yoghurt or separately as a snack are in for a surprise. On Bussemaker’s website (in Dutch) you can find nearly 20 recipes, ranging from cake to cocktails and from sauerkraut to toasted sandwiches.
Follow the farmers on Facebook
For specific advice about topics like blueberry cultivation, Bussemaker now visits a cultivation expert. However, his hope is that he will meet fellow farmers on Global Farmers to maintain contacts and visit farming meetings together. The Global Farmers platform is a useful instrument to Bussemaker. “It can definitely work, but you have to put in effort yourself.”