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Sustainability and innovation trump all at Hydrangea grower Van Schie: “We colour the world”

2024 already can’t go wrong for Sjaak van Schie B.V., producer of high-quality Hydrangea. Earlier this year, they won the prestigious International Grower Of The Year (IGOTY) Award in the Young Plants category. The icing on the cake after more than forty years of sustainable growing. Commercial director Mike van Schie is still enjoying today. 

World player with a village mentality

IGOTY Awards

When the van Schie family travelled to Essen, Germany, on 23 January 2024, they had no inkling that they would be in for a prize.  “We had already won an important agriculture prize in Portugal in 2022,” Mike explains enthusiastically. “But the IGOTY, or the Oscar of ornamental horticulture, is of a different order. Our competitors consisted of global players from Asia, for example. In the end, it turned out that the jury was especially triggered by our business model and knowledge sharing. ‘A global player with a village mentality’, was what their report said. After all, we treat every customer as if they belong to our Hortensia family. And apparently that was the deciding factor for this award. A moment to frame. Very symbolic because we were on stage with the whole family. For my father Sjaak, this was the crowning glory after 44 years of growing with passion.”

From Carnations to Hydrangeas

Time to dive back in time 44 years. That’s when Sjaak van Schie started a carnation nursery in Kwintsheul. In the early 1990s, the carnation market started to change considerably. He looked for a location abroad and found it in Portugal. The biggest turnaround followed in 1999. He focused more and more on growing Hydrangeas. He started with propagation and then moved on to young plants, cuttings and breeding. A strategy that is bearing fruit today. Sjaak has since stepped aside. The new generation Roel and Mike van Schie are at the helm, assisted by Portuguese CEO Fidélio Alegria. Indeed, thorough investments have been made in this location in recent years.

Ultra-modern cultivation under the Portuguese sun

“Our location in Portugal has grown into a state-of-the-art and sustainable business. Especially the cuttings are done here. The advantage of this location? The cool nights combined with many hours of sunshine. Climatically, this is an asset. After all, we can grow energy-free. The cutting material is then further cultivated in the Netherlands or in Portugal itself into half-grown plants. To give you an idea: we produce some 24 million cuttings. Corresponds to 45% of the total area of young-plant Hydrangeas produced across Europe.” 

Reviewing HiBreeding selections
Reviewing HiBreeding selections

HiBreeding: the best of both worlds

The varieties marketed by Van Schie are distinguished by their uniformity, firmness and shelf life. All characteristics that breeding selects for. “We started doing this in 2000. First with other breeders. In 2017, we joined forces with Hydrangea specialist The Mastergrowers. We had been exploring how we could strengthen each other for a while and in 2017 the company HiBreeding emerged from that. Which I am product manager of, by the way. Our goal? Quality and performance. We respond very much to the grower experience. First and foremost, by making sure the plant is easy to grow. This gives the grower a guarantee that, even if there is a mistake in the growing process, the end result will be beautiful. Forgiving plants we call that.”

Life’s a hype

Time to zoom in on Van Schie’s range. “We sell all macrophylla and counters under our own brand Hy-pe. The Hy-pe Unique range consists of Hydrangeas with a ‘wow factor’. They stand out because of their flower colours or the shape of the petals. Think double-flowered or double-coloured plants. Or flowers with a black stem. We offer them in various pot sizes, the bulk being 14 and 23, but pot sizes 29 and 9.5 are also in our range. 

There is also the Hy-pe Original range. Here, customers will find varieties from HiBreeding, by colour. These include bulbs (mophead) and counters (lacecap) in blue, pink, red and white.

And then our latest concept: the Hy-pe Grow Your Own, part of the Hy-pe Original range. Consumers can plant this young Hydrangea themselves and grow it into a flowering plant. We distinguish ourselves from similar concepts because these are HiBreeding varieties with flowering safety. This hydrangea always produces new buds, regardless of the period in which the consumer prunes the plant.”

Cooperation with Floréac

Back to the award for a moment. The judges praised Van Schie for being so passionate about sharing knowledge. Mike explains. “Worldwide, we have Whatsapp groups with other growers in which we share photos and relevant info, among other things. We also often visit customers to see how everything is growing. We learn from that too. In short, you only grow by joining forces. Just look at the cooperation with Floréac Bleiswijk. Through them, we supply Dobbies and switched from standard deliveries to day trade lines. With success: you see the sales in the shop increase every year. A result we can only achieve together. By sitting around the table a lot and communicating openly. What is going well, where can we take it up another notch?”

Customisation thanks to automation

“Cooperation with customers is smoother today thanks to our investment in automation. For example, we sort and deliver Hydrangeas using WPS‘ advanced plant handling system. All plants are assessed by type of height and colour and then transported to the various delivery stations via selected routes. Biggest asset? Customisation. We can direct on-the-spot sales, cultivation and delivery.”

HiBreeding halfwas plant

Future colours emission-free

Time for a look to the future. Floriculture needs to become more sustainable. In itself, hydrangea cultivation is not that harmful to the environment. Especially since they are grown in Portugal under favourable weather conditions. But Van Schie is also making other efforts. “We have a thousand square metres of solar panels. These allow us to grow energy-free even in summer because our cold stores then run on solar energy. Furthermore, we recycle our water and use 50% less water thanks to our water reservoir. Of course, in breeding we also select on traits such as disease resistance, so that less or no crop protection needs to be used. Or we breed varieties that we do not need to slow down in growth, so inhibitors are no longer needed. We also focus more on panicle hydrangeas because they are more heat-resistant and continue to flower.

Furthermore, we are experimenting with peat-free cultivation. Side note: not all customers are ready for this. Not yet, but this is bound to change. As a company, we want to be a pioneer in this. Not waiting for the government to impose measures, but acting now. Our target? To grow emission-free crops by 2035. Making the world a more beautiful place. Our mission is not for nothing We colour the world with passion.”

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