Anton Warmerdam checks the condition of dormant lily bulbs in a chiller. Photo by Maureen Bishop
Millions of lily bulbs leave a Rakaia processing plant every
year on their way to growers around the world.
About 33 million bulbs are exported from the Rakaia plant by
Royal Van Zanten Flowerbulbs Ltd, a Dutch company that has
turned to New Zealand to supply bulbs in the off season for
northern hemisphere growers.
Most go to Japan, China, Taiwan and Europe, but they are also
supplied to India, Vietnam, Australia, Colombia and Mexico.
The company came to New Zealand in 1998, trying first in
South Otago. Wet conditions and heavy soil did not produce
good bulbs so the company moved to Rakaia, where soil
conditions were favourable and irrigation provided a more
About 80% of the bulbs are oriental varieties. They are grown
on 105ha of leased land, of which 75ha-78ha is harvested each
Rakaia shed manager Anton Warmerdam said with a crop rotation
of eight to 10 years, it was not economical for the company
to own land. Instead, it was providing another income for
local farmers through leasing land, particularly areas that
had been in grain the previous year.
Mr Warmerdam, who followed his grandfather and father into
the bulb industry in Holland in 1986, moved to New Zealand in
The plant was now a processing plant. Landowners ploughed and
rolled the paddock and provided irrigation, while contractors
planted, fertilised, sprayed, debudded and harvested the
The planting machine was imported from Holland but potato
harvesters had been adapted to harvest the bulbs.
The company had 12 permanent staff but the numbers swelled
considerably during the harvest period of June and July, when
80 seasonal workers were employed. About 30 were local
people, while the rest were backpackers or motorhome
travellers who followed seasonal work.
If weather allowed, harvesting started by June 1. The cycle
began again in August and September, when main varieties were
planted. Planting was due to be completed by September 25.
Bulbs to be sent out were washed, air dried, graded by weight
and packed in Southland peat. They were stored in chillers
and the temperature lowered slowly to below freezing point to
keep the bulbs dormant.
Stringent import conditions, particularly in Japan, meant the
bulbs must arrive with no soil attached.
During the season, two or three trucks loaded with crates of
bulbs left the plant each day, headed for Timaru on their way
to overseas markets.
Other bulbs were scaled to multiply the crop. Bulbs scaled
now would produce a crop by September 2016.
Buds were removed in January to ensure growth went into the
bulb and not into flowers.
''We don't want to see any colour at all,'' Mr Warmerdam
The demand was always for new varieties with better bud
presentation or stronger colour.
''They must always be better than the last one,'' he said.
The company supplies bulbs to some New Zealand growers and
donates bulbs to Lions clubs for fundraising.
- by Maureen Bishop