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Cor Pellikaan, the founder of Pellikaan, was born and raised in the Westland region, which is the centre of the national and international horticulture sector. As he started his working career in the famous greenhouses of this area, the cultivation of tomatoes and cucumbers held no secrets for him. Therefore, when he started his own agricultural contractor company in 1985 at the age of 18, he knew precisely what to look for in order to achieve his aim of realizing a more effective and profitable workflow ‘under glass’, with the result that he quickly developed a mission that would create the most efficient cultivation of tomatoes and cucumbers
Qlipr: a revolutionary approach to plant handling
A breakthrough for the company was the revolutionary idea for a new suspension system for cucumber and tomato plants. The idea of such a novel and easy to use system came to Cor Pellikaan when he was working with tomato plants. As these grew ever higher, the height of the greenhouses grew accordingly from 2.5 meters to 7 meters. This height required several difficult and heavy cultivation operations, so he wondered if it was possible to hang the plant from the stem. Rope and clips wouldn’t be needed anymore and it would improve the handling of the plant.
This idea was received enthusiastically by the Dutch governmental innovation centre (now called Syntens) and the Applied Scientific Research Institute. Together they started to develop a system to hang plants from the stem which gradually evolved into what is known today as the Qlipr system, consisting of a crop hook, with two stainless steel clamps, to fix the plant. With this new system growers could make large strides towards a more sustainable and efficient way of working. The introduction of the Qlipr during the HortiFair in 1997 proved to be a huge success, with growers from all over the world seeking to order this revolutionary new system. Since then, the Qlipr crop clamping system has earned a strong position in the cucumber and tomato cultivation sector, with worldwide sales of over twenty million Qlipr clamps.
“I was born and raised among greenhouses and my hardworking parents raised me with a typical Dutch horticultural mentality, this being: finish your work today; there might be no tomorrow!” – Cor Pellikaan, CEO and founder
“When you start working from the top and hang a tomato plant from the stem, a rope and clips are not needed anymore and it makes it far easier to handle the plant.”
A success story
The success of Cor Pellikaan’s clamping system has been achieved because it is based on a very simple tool which leads to significant process optimizations for growers as the number of actions are reduced and simplified. The plant is pulled down, the clamps are replaced, and the plant is pinched out and trimmed. This makes multiple operations possible in one working pass, thus saving time and costs, as well as reducing leaf damage. Additionally, the design of the hanging system creates better working conditions as the old way of tending tomatoes often involved hard physical labour whereby employees had to reach up far above their heads, or work with movable platforms. As a result the new way of working is more accessible for potential employees who might have found the older and more physically demanding working methods a barrier to employment.
Another major benefit is the reduced impact on the environment compared to the traditional way of working. In the latter, foliage waste, wire and the plastic clamps were collected when the tomatoes or any other plant were harvested. This created waste that could not be reused. Pellikaan’s new clamping system is reusable: clamps are easily collected and ropes are made of decomposable jute, making the whole system compostable and thus environmentally friendly and sustainable. These advantages make an investment worthwhile, as it only needs to be done once with the system paying for itself in ten years.
Last, but certainly not least, the Qlipr system often outperforms traditional systems in the field of harvest quality. For example, growing cucumbers the traditional way often results in 30% of the fruits becoming bent. With Qlipr, 99% of the harvested cucumber are what are termed ‘A-quality’.
Since the introduction of the new product many growers and producers have discovered the advantages of Pellikaan’s Qlipr system. As a result the company has received a large number of testimonials from growers around the world, including: Christian Wimmer, Gemüsebau Wimmer (Graz, Austria): “The Qlipr system is so easy to use – anyone can work with it. Add to this the fact that it leaves behind no plastic or string residues and we have yet another advantage: as we compost all our spent crops for use on our own plots we are therefore able to work as sustainably as possible.”
Mike Morrison, Temple Farms Organics (Old Mill Creek, Illinois, USA): “The system has been working very nicely for us. Our tomatoes were grafted and then transplanted 4 months ago. They have been productive, healthy, and the Qlipr System was easily adapted. We have a 96 foot hoop house with 3 rows of 80 tomatoes. Each tomato plant is trained to 2 leaders. Cherry tomatoes have reached 20 feet per leader, and heirloom slicing tomatoes have reached 15 feet per leader. That makes about 320 feet of cherry tomato leaders and 4800 feet of slicer tomato leaders. We amend with compost about half way through the season, and the health of the crop has been fantastic and well supported by the system.” Herman Keijsers, a cucumber grower and advisor who has been working with the Qlipr system since 2003: “We save about a third on the number of hours, compared to turning in. Partly because of this, the investment in Qlipr clamps and hooks is recouped within 2 to 3 years.”
Keep it simple
Over the past few years Cor Pellikaan’s vision has led to several innovations, all based on his Qlipr-system, and the possibilities these bring to the full breadth of horticultural production, from pollination to harvesting. His ‘keep it simple’-vision has formed the basis of a ground-breaking innovation: an automated pollination system. With quite basic technology (a small vibrating motor which is connected to the overhead wires of the clamping system), pollination can now start with the turn of a switch. The system has proven itself to be very effective, particularly in countries such as Australia where there are no bumble bees to undertake pollination, resulting in the need for a manual process. Automation has helped growers to dramatically improve efficiency. Yet another low-tech but effective innovation has been the use of odour as a deterring insecticide. The tiny foam insert pieces which are part of the Qlipr clamping system can be treated by Pellikaan in order to deter insects that might damage the plants. The first tests with different odours have shown promising possibilities, making pesticides superfluous and thus further reducing the environmental impact as well as costs.
From low tech to high tech
While, traditionally, Pellikaan has been active in the low-tech and mid-tech markets, it is now also moving towards larger and high-tech markets with a number of new simple, but smart, solutions. In particular, Cor Pellikaan sees market opportunities where there are growing needs for more sustainable solutions.
“There is a huge potential to reduce waste, to generate and use the CO 2 and warmth generated in the greenhouses.”
The Qlipr system can play a significant role in the transition of waste to compost. In the growing process, heat and CO 2 are produced, both of which can be used the greenhouse, the first for heating the greenhouse and the latter for stimulating growth of the plants and fruit. In this way a truly ‘circular greenhouse’ can be developed, one of the many ambitions Cor Pellikaan is developing to create a sustainable future for horticulture.
Increasingly, the Qlipr system is becoming the basis for yet more sustainable and efficient innovations. Even high-tech markets are showing interest, for example in the Netherlands which is leading in high-tech horticulture. The country is dominated by larger companies that own ten hectares of greenhouse and more, these showing increasing interest in the sustainability advantages of the system.
“I believe we can contribute to the development of a truly circular greenhouse.”
This growth is also becoming apparent not only in the size of business but in its application to a far wider range of plants. As already described, the system was first applied to cucumbers and tomatoes, but is now increasingly used for paprika, eggplant, cucumbers, blackberries and raspberries.
Pellikaan has laid a very solid base in lowtech and medium-tech markets during the past few years. However, as a result of recent innovations, it is very likely that larger and high-tech growers will fall for the simple, yet effective, solutions from Cor Pellikaan.
At the forefront of innovation
Pellikaan Crop Clamping Systems is one of twenty five official horticultural suppliers participating at ‘Demokwekerij Westland’, the leading innovation centre for national and international horticulture. This organization, located in Honselersdijk in The Netherlands, initiates, organizes, promotes and facilitates cultivation and technological innovations for national and international greenhouse horticulture. The nursery of tomorrow is developed here through demonstrations by participating companies, through knowledge transfer such as courses, crop days and special events, and through research work, with World horti center welcoming more than 40,000 horticulture professionals from home and abroad every year.
The Qlipr system from Pellikaan is presented in a permanent demonstration room, with other innovative products. The company also collaborates with other parties on new innovations that contribute to efficient and sustainable deployment of labour within the global horticulture industry, such as the development of a mechanical pollination system for tomato cultivation.