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The flower bulb sector within an international perspective

The flower bulb sector has its roots in the Netherlands. This country produces around 60% of the world’s supply of flower bulbs, and its trading companies account for 85% of the international trade in these products. The appealing range of these products and the in-depth knowledge about flower bulbs and bulb flowers has given the Netherlands an advantage that would be difficult for other countries to surpass.

The export value of these products, of which more than 55% are sent to countries outside of the European Union, amounts to approximately 600 million euros. The United States has always been the most important market. Japan was the sector’s most important growth market during the 1990s; today, however, China and Russia are making their way up the list of leading import countries. Sales within Europe have remained stable for years with Germany topping the list followed by the United Kingdom and France. The four Scandinavian countries also make up a very important market for the sector.

Production in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands, flower bulbs are produced on 22,000 ha of land in various regions of the country. The two regions in the Province of North Holland (the ‘northern bulb-growing sandy region’ and West Friesland) make up the largest production area by far. For centuries, the Province of South Holland’s Bollenstreek (or bulb-growing region) has been a significant location for growing flower bulbs – especially hyacinths – while the Province of Flevoland is quickly becoming another major production area. Weather conditions have a major impact on production results and thus on the number of bulbs that annually appear on the market. Rough estimates show that around 8.5 billion flower bulbs are produced every year in the Netherlands. The bulbs produced in greatest quantities are tulips, lilies, hyacinths, daffodils, gladioli, dahlias and crocuses. These are followed by many other miscellaneous bulbous plants.

The distribution chain

The Netherlands has more than 1500 flower bulb growers who specialise in cultivating one or more kinds of flower bulbs. A large percentage of their production is sold to around 100 bulb trading companies located primarily in the Netherlands. These companies then take care of additional processing and sales. A large share of these flower bulbs is sold abroad but many of them are also used every year in the Netherlands, particularly for forcing. In other words, these bulbs serve as starting material for professional forcing companies that force the bulbs into flower; these products are then bunched and sold to consumers in retail outlets. But the sale of flower bulbs as forcing material in foreign markets is also very important. This means that the products produced locally still have their origins in Dutch bulbs! Some bulb trading companies focus completely on consumer sales and the institutional market for the planting of public gardens and parks. The other two major partners in the distribution chain are the plant breeding companies that play a leading role in product development, and the purchasing and sales agencies that usually act as intermediaries between the production and bulb trading companies for the supply and demand in the Dutch market.  

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