Spring brings magnificent swathes of colour to Southland
as hundreds of hectares of tulips bloom. But for tulip
producers, the flowers are a byproduct and the real value of
the plant lies in its bulb. Reporter Allison Rudd talks to
one of the van Eeden family about the changing industry.
For many decades, van Eeden Tulips was the only tulip bulb
producer in New Zealand of any significance.
For 45 years, it supplied most of the bulbs grown by
commercial flower growers, home gardeners and council parks
and reserves departments, before branching out into exports
in the late 1990s.
It still produces about 14 million bulbs annually from about
25ha of plants, exporting about one-third to the Netherlands
and one-third to the United States and selling the remainder
in this country.
But a relatively sudden shift in the industry has seen van
Eeden Tulips slide from being the largest producer in the
country to the smallest.
Sales and administration manager Philip van Eeden is one of
four brothers employed fulltime in the business started by
their father Jacques. He said rival companies began
establishing themselves in the South - the only part of the
country suitable for large-scale tulip production - about 20
The first was Tulip International and its successor Global
Bulbs, based at Tapanui, both of which are now in
receivership. Some of Tulip International's staff moved to
Edendale 13 years ago and established a New Zealand branch
for the major Dutch producer Triflor.
Those growers ''did not tread on each other's toes'', Mr van
Eeden said, but respected each other's businesses.
But the competition got tougher about three years ago with
the arrival of several more Dutch companies leasing large
tracts of land for significant crops.
Flowering plants are sensitive. Trying to get a northern
hemisphere bulb to flower outside of its normal growing
season only confused the plant and perfect blooms might not
result, hence the strong demand for the southern hemisphere
bulbs, he said.
''It's all about money. We grow good bulbs here and the major
Dutch companies want to get in on that.''
Mr van Eeden said there were three growers in Southland a
decade ago, with an estimated 100ha of tulips. By this year,
that had increased to six growers and about 200-250ha of
Most of the growing happens in southern Southland, but a
cluster of Dutch companies has also set up an operation at
Balfour in Northern Southland.
The past year had been particularly difficult for van Eedens,
Mr van Eeden said, although the company had not lost any of
its loyal clients.
''We've got our own little niche market and our favourite end
Triflor general manager Rudi Verplancke said Triflor exported
about 45 million bulbs annually, mostly to the US and Canada.
Its production had increased from 10ha to 80ha over the past
decade and would probably rise to 90ha within the next few
The newer companies were at present supplying their parent
companies in the Netherlands, Mr Verplancke said, but added
he would not like to see too many more companies establishing
''It's all right at the moment because they are not selling
in the same markets we are. But it could be a different story
if prices for Dutch bulbs drop and they try and dump bulbs on
the US market.''
Mr van Eeden said he and his brothers became involved in the
family business from an early age.
All except Eric are still involved fulltime. Each has their
own responsibilities - Michael processing and production,
Peter mechanical matters and harvesting, Philip
administration and sales, and John production management.
Eric, an accountant, does the books.
But Mr van Eeden said he and his brothers might be the last
van Eedens in the business, both here and in the Netherlands,
as none of the next generation looked likely to become
''The three boys are not interested, and I wouldn't encourage
the girls - and there are a swag of them.
''The hours are long and it is a very physical industry.
''And with the competition, it is a very hard business to be
Back in the Netherlands, his cousins, uncles and great-uncles
and their business partners had also ''called it a day'', he
said. None were growing commercially now, although one of his
cousins operated a tulip museum in Amsterdam.
The lifecycle of a Southland tulip
April/May: Bulbs planted.
September: Plants begin to grow.
October/November: Flowers bloom. After a few weeks,
flowers removed and discarded to acelerate bulb growth.
January/February: Bulbs harvested, washed, dried and
graded. Main bulb retained for sale or export. Smaller bulbs
growing around the edge of main bulb, known as offsets,
removed and kept for replanting. Bulbs exported to overseas
markets, mainly the Netherlands, the United States and Canada
in refrigerated containers.
April/May: Bulbs planted by northern hemisphere flower
growers. Bulbs kept frozen until about September/October, or
a month before growers want blooms. Bulbs then transferred to
greenhouses to produce cut flowers to sell during northern