For one week, every year in September, around 5,000 visitors from 80 different countries visit Bejo’s Open Days, at its headquarters at Warmenhuizen in the Netherlands. However, Marketing & Communication Manager Mirjam Both points out that a wide range of colleagues throughout the business work hard throughout the year to make the event a success.
It is not just the organizational team which is involved in the event as Sales Director Martin van der Voort points out: “The whole company is involved and very active during these Open Days, so it is great that we have so many people who come along.”
Not all the visitors came from so far away. Every year some 200 students studying agriculture and related subjects visit the event and have the same access to guided tours and the trials fields as everyone else. This gives the next generation a chance to see how high tech and science driven modern vegetable and seed production are.
Another area where Bejo has an eye on the future is the crucial role that bees have in pollinating seed crops. The company employs 20 beekeepers around the world, and there are more than 1,000 active hives in the Netherlands alone. In the fruit crops greenhouse visitors could learn more about work which Bejo is doing to help combat the serious threat of the Varroa mite which has decimated honey bee populations, including breeding programmes to improve the natural resistance of bees to Varroa.
Of course the main reason most people visit the Open Days is to see and assess the latest varieties, and this year was no exception. With a portfolio of more than 1,200 varieties spread 50 different crops, Bejo typically introduces between 30 and 40 new varieties each year. Some of the highlights which were attracting interest this year included:
• Aranka – A new Amsterdam Bak type carrot with excellent flavour, making it perfect for snack use. With a short growing period it also has a long sowing and harvesting window, making it very versatile.
• Redlander – The first and only red onion hybrid variety on the market that is highly resistant to mildew. With its fresh, crisp taste and beautifully bright internal colour, Redlander was nominated for the 2019 Fruit Logistica Innovation Award.
• Boga – This onion for organic production is a mid-early variety for growing from sets, and combines high productivity with mildew resistance.
• Blanched celery Cumbia (Bejo 3163) has very healthy foliage, and is intermediate resistant to Septoria, making it ideal for autumn cropping and organic cultivation.
More than 200 varieties are available as organic seed, and with 22 years experience, Bejo has learned and applied best practice from both organic and conventional production systems. This is becoming increasingly important as the options for chemical seed treatments are reduced, and the company has invested heavily in new technology to inspect, sort and process seed. As a result Bejo are now specialists in non-chemical seed treatments, including the use of hot water treatment and steam vacuum cleaning to remove seed-borne diseases.
These techniques are supported by the company’s research and testing laboratories, and Open Day visitors had the chance to tour these facilities, including the state-of-the-art 10,000 m2 seed warehouse. Visitors wanting to learn more about seed production and how quality is ensured from pollinating the initial seed crops all the way through to drilling and planting the final crop on farm could attend the Exploring seed: from seed to seedling symposium. This proved so popular that it was held twice during the week in order to meet demand, with standing room only for the second event on Thursday.
Innovation & Inspiration
Innovation doesn’t just extend to new crop genetics and improving seed quality. Bejo works with partners and companies across the whole supply chain and is constantly working to develop new ideas and concepts for fresh produce. Some of these concepts and recipe ideas were on display and available for tasting, including such delicacies as red cabbage mouse, fried radicchio and healthy vegetable ‘shots’ made of juiced fermented white cabbage, red beet and pickled ginger. A snack corner also served items based on key Bejo concepts such as Coolwrap cabbage rolls, Cool Carrot Candy snack carrots and Kohrispy kohlrabi sticks, which visitor could take away to enjoy at their convenience.
“We try to inspire visitors with new ideas for using our vegetables,” explained Mirjam. “We are always trying to find new ideas for the market and we want to be involved with the whole value chain, so this provides an opportunity for dialogue with partners in the food service sector, as well as retailers and chefs for example.”
There is a lot of interest now in food and where it comes from, and this is being felt right down the supply chain by companies like Bejo. Not only are the Open Days Bejo’s main opportunity to connect with customers and clients from across the world, but they form a key part of its strategy to tell its own story as widely as possible. “It is a lot of work, but when you see it come together it is worth it,” adds Mirjam. “It is something I hope we will be doing for a long time to come.”