Trade deals signed during Royal tour

May 29, 2015
Written by
May 28, 2015, Beamsville, Ont. – With a Canadian industry so heavily influenced by the Netherlands, it was quite fitting this week’s Dutch Royal Tour of Ontario included a visit to a greenhouse.

King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima spent much of Thursday afternoon at CosMic Plants, one of North America’s leading orchid growers.

This year, the Netherlands is commemorating the seventieth anniversary of its liberation and Canada’s contribution to that historic struggle has been a central theme of this state visit. (For more on the Royal Tour, go to: http://www.greenhousecanada.com/news/cosmic-plants-to-welcome-royal-couple-30412 and http://www.greenhousecanada.com/news/major-cucumber-operation-planned-in-quebec-30415.

CosMic Plants is owned by Neil and Mike van Steekelenburg, a pair of brothers of Dutch descent. The two started the company in the summer of 2004.

The Royal Couple were given a tour of the 80,000-square-foot facility, and were quite interested in all facets of the operation, asking questions at each stop and closely examining the plants and equipment.

A reception followed immediately in the greenhouse – with benches full of colourful plants as the backdrop – for a number of local growers and suppliers, along with members of a Dutch trade delegation who have been touring the province this past week.

Earlier in the day, the delegation toured the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, meeting with researchers in the Consumer Insights and Horticultural Production Systems units.

The trade mission has also been quite successful, with a pair of major horticulture agreements finalized. The signing ceremonies, fittingly, were held at the conclusion of the greenhouse tour with King Willem-Alexander and Queen Màxima congratulating the participants.

• Consulting firm AAB Nederland b.v. has a deal with Serres Toundra to help the Quebec firm in its plans to develop a 40-hectare cucumber greenhouse. It will be built in four stages over several years and will utilize waste heat from a nearby paper mill for some of its heating requirements.

• The Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, Rijk Zwaan, and the Fondation pour l’amélioration génétique de la laitue et des légumes feuilles in Quebec signed a three-way agreement for the use of an RZ aphid-resistant lettuce line to help develop Canadian lettuce varieties resistant to aphids.

MONTHS OF PLANNING

Mike and Neil were first approached by the Royal Dutch Embassy in Washington in January to see if they would be interested in hosting the visit.

After some initial phone calls, embassy staff from both Washington and Ottawa visited CosMic Plants. In February, the tour stop was confirmed.

Planning for the visit required a lot of work. “It obviously took a lot of our time,” Mike explains, “but the support from both embassies was great.”

They also worked with various law enforcement departments, along with the Royal Household and the Dutch government.

The extensive planning paid off in a flawless day of celebration.

The Royal visitors were quite keen to learn about all aspects of the greenhouse. “They were interested in how we market our orchids, what the challenges are and why we chose the Niagara region to establish our business.

“Their questions were very sharp in the sense you knew they were very well informed.

“They were so easy to talk to and it was so cool to just have a conversation with them.”

Planting and transplanting operations were continuing during the visit, much like any other day. It was business as usual in a sense, though productivity may have taken a backseat to the excitement of the day in which staff were continually interrupted by visitors wanting a closer look.

“We were to keep it under the radar for a long time,” Mike notes, “but once we explained to our staff why we had all these visits from people in suits, they were very excited.”

The staff took great pride in preparing the greenhouses for the Royal reception, and patiently took many phone calls from people looking for more information. “All in all,” says Mike, “it was a total team effort. Without our staff, we wouldn’t even have this business to begin with, so their role is big.”

In total, about 150 people attended the day’s event.


ABOUT COSMIC PLANTS

CosMic Plants began with 60,000 square feet of greenhouses, and has since grown to 80,000 square feet. They have 15 employees, and also grow orchids off-site.

The major crops are Phalaenopsis orchids in 5" containers and 2-1/2" Minis. Total production is about 9,000 units per week.

Products are sold as far away as North Bay and Texas, and through to Edmonton and St. John's, Newfoundland. However, the majority are sold in and around the Toronto area, along with Montreal, Boston, New York “and everything in between.”

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