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26 November 2019

Customer report (2): Fruit grower Ham from Dronten

Customer report (2): Fruit grower Ham from Dronten

On a beautiful autumn day I met fruit grower Peter Ham and his youngest son Jelmer on their fruit farm in Dronten, where they mainly grow pears. The family had hail nets placed over part of the trees last year. I visited them to take a look and to see their motivation. 

Around 1968, Father Ham came from the Noord-Hollandse Wijdenes to the polder to work as a manager in a so-called 'bieb-company' of the Rijksdienst: a 'company under his own management'. About 14 years later, Peter was now 18 years old and helped his father in the business, stopped this construction but the family in Dronten was given the opportunity to lease a 30 hectares fruit farm. Now, 30 years later, Peter owns half of the land including the buildings and he still leases the other half. 

''It was full of old apple trees at the time, our vision was initially to completely switch to Conference in V-hedgerows,'' says Peter. Slowly but surely he adjusted that vision a little. ''We found out the risk of putting everything on one variety. The Conference prices have been very common in recent years. That's why we have focused on other varieties and planted another piece of apples in 2011. At the moment we have 14 hectares of Conference, 2.5 hectares of Comice, 2.5 hectares of Red Prince and, since a year and a half, 3 hectares of Gräfin Grepa. On the remaining land we have shared farming.'' 

fruit grower Peter Ham in orchard

He's continuing: "My fruit is sold entirely on the wood and traded by Best of Four one of their customers is Frupak Vernooij. This gives me fairly stable prices. Our returns are generally good, but it is difficult to get more and more. The question is how labour costs will evolve in the coming years. That's a bit of a worry.'' 

Peter Ham aims with his growing activities at the higher segment. More labour, more pruning, good fertilization and thinning ensure nice large sizes. This, in combination with the growing risk, was reason for him to plant 3 hectares of premium Gräfin Grepa a year and a half ago. According to him, another advantage of this variety is that the harvest falls just before the Conference. The longer picking window makes it more interesting for Polish workers, which of course is becoming more and more important.

''One of the conditions was that I would also place hail nets above these new pears. Because of the cooperation with Best of Four, I was able to make use of a GMO regulation''. He requested quotations from three parties and chose FruitSecurity Holland together with Best of Four. ''Those guys have to most expertise, hail nets is their core business. In terms of price there is little difference between them, these 3 hectares have cost 50.000,- in material, then 1000,- more or less does not matter.

According to Peter, the choice for FruitSecurity Holland was also a matter of feeling. ''They're very approachable. Of course things sometimes go wrong, they have grown a lot in recent years and are in a learning precess. But they are solution-oriented; if there is someting they solve it and they think along with you, I always like that.'' Peter had the poles placed by Van Doorn from Houten, who also grow Gräfin Grepa. Much of the installation work he did himself. '' In that hail net construction you can do a lot yourself. Sometimes a boy from FruitSecurity Holland would come along for a few hours, he would tell you how to go about it, they wouldn't mind. It's a lot of repetition, of course.

pears at Fruit Nursery Hamhail net construction Dronten

The whole process of new planting and installation of nets was not without its problems due to private circumstances. In 2015, Peter's wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. After treatment she seemend fine, but by the end of 2017 it was again wrong. ''I had to come to the hospital, it turned out that metastases had been foud in the cerebellum. She was given another four weeks.'' Eventually his wife lived for another year and a half, but sadly she died last spring. She ended up being ill for four years.

''At first I didn't know what to do, you tend to drop everything. But my wife said to me one day, ''What's the point of sitting down?'' That week of her death was hectic, so much had to be organised. The day after her funeral the alarm went off early, the blossom was coming. I was called; everything wnt on as usual. When you find yourself in such a situation with your loved one, you wonder: what am I going to do? Am I going to drop everything and wait until the situation is stable, or am I going to carry with what I was doing?'' Peter chose the last one.

placing hail nets

So the hail nets came after all. So far Peter thinks the results is positive. ''We had immediate hail this year, it wasn't much but sill. We also notice that we have significantly less wind and bird damage. Other growers also have this experience. The trees have been produced for the first time this year, we have already picked 52 tonnes, so 6-7 kilos per tree. That's nog bad for a first year of harvesting, of course. The quality is good, the pears have just been sorted and we had a 94% packout.

hail in  hail nets Dronten

We finish the conversation and drive to the plot where the hail nets are. Peter's son Jelmer is on holiday, he is following agricultural training but is now on the platform to secure the rolled nets with elastic. 

father and son working Fruit nursery Hamjelmer working Fruit nursery Ham

''That was of course also an additional investment, the platform,'' says Peter. In the orchard he also shows us the double-head system. The trees have already done well this year. 

dual-head system Gravin Gepa

As we drive back, we talk briefly about the future. Two of Peter's three sons opted for agricultural training and are interested in taking over their father's company in the future. But, as on many farms, the family is currently watching the cat from the tree how prices will go in the coming years. He concludes: ''If one of my boys continues with the business, I don't think it will be possible to run any more risks at some point. I think hail nets are going to become a standard investment in the future''.