Stolk Flora in Bleiswijk does things differently. It’s obvious as soon as you walk into its nursery. The company actively showcases its drive to ensure its orchids are grown with respect for people and nature. ‘We try to adopt a prominent role on sustainability. Certification helps us to do this and keeps us on our toes,’ managing board member Koen van Koppen says.
‘These days you can set yourself apart with sustainability. Certification gives you the option of backing up your performance and comparing your company to others. That’s important; you can say all kinds of things about how sustainable you are, but as long as there’s no benchmark against which your performance can be measured it’s of little use,’ Van Koppen continues. ‘Our MPS-A+ qualification tells us something about how we perform when it comes to use of crop protection agents, fertilisers and energy compared to other, similar companies. And once you’ve earned an MPS-A+ certificate (the highest level within MPS-ABC, Ed.), you want to keep it. So it motivates us to keep casting a critical eye over our business operations.’
In addition to MPS-ABC, Stolk Flora also holds MPS-GAP, MPS-ProductProof and MPS-SQ certification. Van Koppen: ‘MPS-ProductProof allows us to demonstrate that no chemical crop protection agents were used on our orchids at individual product level and this in turn contributes to the sector’s image.’
That transparency is important to the company can also be seen from the fact that it published a sustainability report last year on the years 2017 up to and including 2019. The report includes two graphs from MPS showing that the company does not use agents with the highest environmental impact. Stolk Flora only uses biological and bee-friendly crop protection agents.
The company actively publicises its sustainability efforts as well via its ‘Your Natural Orchid’ slogan. ‘We use no chemical crop protection agents and make no concessions on that. Naturally we try to cultivate plants as efficiently as possible, but not at any cost. It’s not the easiest option and means we lose out in terms of cultivation time as the plants take longer to grow,’ Van Koppen admits. ‘At the same time, however, we notice that our plants last for longer. We also try to communicate our cultivation method to our customers. Partly because we aim to set ourselves apart in this respect, but also out of a sense of idealism.
Prevention wherever possible
The fact that owner Jan Stolk’s uncle was allergic to chemical crop protection agents meant that the company reviewed their use long ago. The family was brought up not to use them. Van Koppen: ‘The plants are made resilient using natural extracts and essential oils. Our priority is prevention wherever possible.’ Here and there are lamps with blue lightbulbs hanging over the plants. ‘If we find lots of flies in the lamps, that means there’s an increased risk of an infestation. If there’s an infestation, disease or mould, we control it using its natural enemies or biological crop protection agents.’
Aside from crop protection agents, energy is another major focus for the company. ‘In 2018 we purchased a heat pump. It means we now use much less energy. In the period from 2017 to 2019 it led to savings of over one cubic metre of gas, the equivalent of the amount consumed by 850 households. We constantly try to make such comparisons in order to clarify how well things are going. You can’t say it often enough.’
This article has been published in Dutch on the website of Nieuwe Oogst.