Tulip growers hanging gloves up

Van Eeden Tulips Ltd production manager John Van Eeden plans to continue working in the tulips...
Van Eeden Tulips Ltd production manager John Van Eeden plans to continue working in the tulips industry, after his family’s business shuts down after 68 years. PHOTO: LAURA SMITH
After almost 70 years of brightening up the country, the family behind a Southland tulip business are taking the time to stop and smell the roses.

The 25ha plot of Van Eeden Tulips, a Southland tulip growing business, will no longer be bathed in the colours of its 80 different varieties.

The business has been in operation for 68 years and has been passed down between two generations in New Zealand.

Before that the family had been in the tulip business going back a further six generations in the Netherlands.

Production manager John Van Eeden said leaving this legacy behind was bittersweet.

"It is a big job and it comes with long hours and sometimes quite a bit of stress.

"On the other hand, now that I’ve stopped, you do miss the day-to-day."

One of five brothers who own the company, Mr Van Eeden said the decision arose after two of the five began setting their sights on retirement.

Mr Van Eeden said he would continue in the tulip business, offering his expertise to whoever wanted it — including contracts he had acquired in China.

His parents migrated to New Zealand from the Netherlands in 1952, and had set up a "very primitive" business in Invercargill.

Their family’s reputation had grown, as they were one of the first businesses to provide bulbs and flowers around New Zealand, and were known for their quality, he said.

In the late ’90s, the business branched out into out-of-season exports to the northern hemisphere, which had become its main focus for the past 22 years.

There was enormous demand from China, the United States, Poland and Scandinavia for out-of-season southern hemisphere bulbs, Mr Van Eeden said.

Despite being the smallest of the five main Southland growers that exported abroad, Van Eeden Tulips was the only company that still provided for the local market, Mr Van Eeden said.

While he did not think their company’s departure would make much of a dent in the international market, which was "absolutely booming", the effects were already being felt at home.

"Now that we’re gone, I think there’s a big hole in the market which we have left behind, because the export growers aren’t really interested in the local market.

"There are still local market sales, but the number of varieties is considerably less and they are more expensive as well."

Other players were stepping forward and a few smaller growers around the country were taking up the mantle, he said.

It had been rewarding to work in an industry that was based on brightening people’s day, Mr Van Eeden said.

He was grateful to all of their local and long-standing customers, some of whom had been with them for 40 years, and said this had been hard to walk away from.



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