Dutch flower industry blooms through automation

By Meghan Morris

THE HAGUE, the Netherlands — Beautiful orchids are blooming at any Home Depot or local florist right now, but the flowers look even better in the Netherlands.

Customers can buy flowers with fewer brown or shriveled petals, thanks to automation that saves producers money and helps quality standardization. Long famous for tulips, the Netherlands now is the largest orchid producer in the world, with advanced technology claimed to be unique – right now – to Dutch greenhouses.

Below are scenes from Ter Laak Orchids, a third-generation flower producer that’s among the world leaders in floral technology. The photos demonstrate how the Dutch employ automation to produce orchids. (Click on each photo.)

Experts say Ter Laak has some of the most advanced processes in the industry, leading to increased efficiency and more uniform flowers.

Ter Laak, founded in 1955, is opening its first international location in Guatemala at the end of this year.

Richard ter Laak said in a press presentation that his company picked that country, despite its small customer base, because orchids command prices three to four times higher in Guatemala than in developed markets.

In the U.S., orchids are the top-selling potted flower, rising ahead of the poinsettia in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The flower’s rise in popularity coincides with a precipitous drop in cost. Orchid prices decreased 30 percent between 2004 and 2013, which may lead growers to start looking across the Atlantic for more efficient processes.

Meghan Morris is reporting from the Netherlands as part of a Dutch embassy-sponsored trip for journalists.

Photo at top: Ter Laak Orchids sells test flower varieties in a showroom next to its production facility. The company, like many of its Dutch counterparts, relies on automation to a greater degree than U.S. flower growers. (Meghan Morris/Medill)