Robert Elshof

Robert Elshof

“Hi, I’m Robert Elshof and I grow organic apples in Dronten, together with my wife Nathalie and my children Cas and Mara. If you walk around my packhouse, you can still see wooden apple boxes with the year 1970 and the name A. Elshof. That is my father, who started this company in 1968 in the Flevopolder, which had just been reclaimed from the Zuiderzee. I grew up in this spot and since my childhood I worked on the fruit farm. In 2002 I took over the company. At the time, we were fully specialized in supplying for the supermarket. In 2010 however, I decided to go organic.

Since I have been working organically, I see nature coming back to my orchard. There are much more earwigs and ladybugs, who control the lice. After two years without pesticides I also see the dragonflies, butterflies and honey bees increase in numbers.

My ambition is to grow organic apples of high quality, but also in large quantity. I have 18 hectares of myself and I also pack the apples for four other organic growers. I think organic should gain a serious market share. At the moment, 3% of all food in the Netherlands is organic and that is way too little. Organic will have to prove itself more and demonstrate its added value. I want to work at that." 

 

Interview with Robert Elshof

Why did you convert to organic?
Robert: "We were always good at producing large volumes of high quality. But after 2007, 2008 it started to pall on me. Supermarkets were putting up more and more rules. You had to deliver a perfect product with a lot of extra requirements and paperwork, but at a minimum price. Often less then cost price. So I though to myself: I might as well take on a real challenge, and go organic. I feel that in the organic market there is still room to create something new. We need to make the product less anonymous and work transparently, that's the organic way."

How did you prepare for going organic?
"Here in Dronten we have the highest density of organic farms in the whole country. So I visited my organic colleagues, I asked advice from organic specialists and of course I googled a lot. I also went to visit a number of organic cropfarmers. After that, I just went on and did it! In 2013, my whole company will be officially organic."

What difficulties did you encounter?
"In 2012 all fruit growers, me included, had a lot of frost damage in the spring. As a result, production is very low this year, although the quality is very good. But the frost damage has nothing to do with going organic. What bothered me most in the beginning, was having to allow bugs and weeds in my orchard. To controll them by natural means, you have to be really on top of it all the time. You need to watch the trees very carefully and put a lot of effort in. One might compare good organic farming with a top-class athletic performance. But in general, things are going quite well!"

What do you like most about working in the orchard?
"It's just great to be outside. Unfortunately I must confess that currently I'm so busy with managing business, that I'm not as much in the orchard as I would like too. But I still come there every day. The best moments of the year are blossom time in april, and of course the moment in early autumn, just before the harvest, when all the trees all full with colourful apples."

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