Triflor New Zealand

March 2015

Supplying tulip bulbs to the nothern hemisphere in the off-season

Southland-based Triflor NZ is the country’s largest tulip bulb producer and exports bulbs to the USA. Next year is the 50th anniversary of Triflor in Holland, which is the owner of Triflor NZ. Triflor NZ , has been operating in NZ for more than 20 years.

Triflor produces bulbs for export, mainly to North America. They grow 85ha of tulips and 5ha of Dutch irises. An associated business across the road grows 4ha of peonies. With 10,000ha of tulips grown in Holland, you would think the Dutch growers would have the market sewn up, but the reason Triflor also grows tulips in the Southern Hemisphere is to ensure year-round supply of flowers for the growers they sell to.

In Holland tulips are harvested in June, and because it takes six months after that to prepare a bulb for flowering, they are ready to go into US glasshouses for flower production in January. This leaves a gap in the US market from September to December for tulip flowers, which are now available year-round. With the North American holidays of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas ; orange, yellow and red tulips respectively are in demand. Pink tulips are sold for Breast Cancer Awareness week.

In New Zealand the bulbs are harvested in January, and then over the next six months prepared for sale to commercial flower growers in the US, who receive them in June and July. The US growers plant them in glasshouses from August onwards.

During the six week harvest, Triflor employs three shifts of staff totalling 90 people. They lift, harvest, wash, peel and grade the tulip bulbs before preparing them for storage until they are exported later in the year. During the export season which runs from mid-April to the end of May Triflor employs 15 staff.

At first the bulbs are held in rooms heated to 25degC to hold the bulbs back, then slowly the temperatures are reduced down to 20degC before they are exported.

In the shipping container the bulbs are held at 2 to 5degC for four weeks to start the period of cold dormancy. Bulbs need 12 weeks of cold dormancy. When they are planted in the glasshouse, the tulips are prompted to behave as though it’s spring, and they begin to flower.

Each bulb has two small bulbs growing on it. These are kept by Triflor for planting for next year’s crop. The larger of the two small bulbs takes only a year to grow into an export size, while the smaller one will take three years.

Rudi Verplancke, who grew up in a strong bulb growing area of Holland, came to New Zealand 17 years ago to grow flowers, and for the past 10 years has worked for Triflor. Rudi says their tulips are quite traditional in terms of colours. If the flowers are too fancy, people won’t recognise them as tulips so won’t buy them he says.  This year has been very challenging, with about twice the annual rainfall. “It’s been too wet and too cold” but on average the deep rich and heavy soils of Edendale soils produce a better crop than in Holland.  About 35 tonnes of bulbs are harvested from each hectare.

Triflor exports around 45 million each year. As well as exporting to the US, bulbs are also sold to Canada, Holland, Norway, Finland and Russia.

It’s a challenge to find new land each year to plant on, he says. They plant on a rotation, leasing land for the tulips for two to three years to avoid build up of pests and diseases. “We swap with dairy farmers.”  The rotation means tulips are only going into the same land for one in every six years.

On Labour Day each year Triflor has an open day for the public to capture photographs of the spectacular fields of tulip flowers. More people come each year, as it is also an opportunity to buy bulbs.

For the bulb producers, flowers are considered a waste product.  “If we picked every stem we would have 50 million stems, and we would flood the market instantly. Besides, I ask people “how often does your husband bring you a bunch of flowers?”

Triflor is the largest of the five growers in Southland, with around 220ha in the ground. “We do have plans to expand but first we have to sort out the availability of the land,” Rudi says.