16 Jun 2020

Setting Rijk Zwaan on the path to success in Asia

In July 2020, Rijk Zwaan will say farewell to a team member that has been integral in pioneering its development across Australasia – Arie Baelde. We speak with Arie about growth, what Rijk Zwaan stands for and his plans for retirement.

Caption: Talking to a Spinach grower in the Gunma highlands Japan with Yu Sato, Takada

You would think someone approaching retirement might be looking forward to slowing down and enjoying some peace and quiet – but not Rijk Zwaan’s Arie Baelde. Full of energy and passion for the natural world, it’s clear within a few minutes of talking to Arie that this is a man who truly loves what he does.

Kees Reinink, Arie Baelde and Valiant Halborg in the glasshouse

Caption: Kees Reinink, Arie Baelde and Valiant Halborg in the glasshouse

Arie’s career in agriculture kicked off a little earlier than most others, with his teenage summer vacations spent digging up bulbs for five Dutch gilders a week. 

Joining the Rijk Zwaan team in the Netherlands as a young plant breeder in 1979, Arie’s work has since developed into a pioneering role, initially as Business Manager for Rijk Zwaan in Oceania until 2018, to focus 100% on Rijk Zwaan activities in India, Vietnam, Japan and Korea.

Arie’s in-depth involvement in growing Rijk Zwaan’s activities in the Asian region began in the mid-2000s, when he visited several small-scale growers in Vietnam.

“I like to start new things and kick them off,” explains Arie.

“Rijk Zwaan as a company supports their growers long term, and that’s where we could really make a difference.

Arie, Mark, Horst, Warren opening Flavorite

Caption: Arie, Mark, Jon and Warren opening Flavorite

The growers I first visited had a very basic set up, but they were doing their best. It was really satisfying to see the positive advancements in their farming set up that our training and support brought over the years.

Asia also represents half the world’s population. It meant there was potential to find lots of diverse talent with new ideas to recruit into the Rijk Zwaan team.”

Since Rijk Zwaan operations in the region commenced, the company has progressively grown. This is trend that Arie predicts will continue for years to come.

“Asia adds a lot to the business globally, both in terms of seeds sold and new employees adding value and knowledge to our teams,” explains Arie.

“India and Vietnam are the largest markets in Asia for us. The region consumes a large percentage of the world’s vegetables, and plus they have an incredible diversity in vegetables, which is something I think we could adopt in Australia.

Rijk Zwaan’s expansion into Asia involved building the business around in-demand vegetable crops and providing support and training for the most commonly used growing methods. 

“Their main vegetable crops are mini cucumbers, sweet peppers and hydroponic lettuce,” says Arie.  

“And the greenhouse market is very strong throughout Asia because protected cropping means reduced chemical use, more security and less worry about crops being compromised by weather events.”

While Rijk Zwaan Asia has developed and grown since 2006, the original vision remains the same to this day – and it encapsulates the Rijk Zwaan culture perfectly.

“We wanted to offer every grower in the Asian region our commitment to helping them grow and develop,” summarises Arie.

Globally, Rijk Zwaan attracts team members sharing values of cooperation and collaboration.

Cook-off challenge SEA team meeting

Caption: Cook-off challenge SEA team meeting

“It’s easy to take Rijk Zwaan’s company culture for granted when you’ve been a part of it for so long – but when you see that other companies don’t have what we have, you can see our culture is something really special,” Arie says.

This is why Arie feels no anxiety approaching his retirement. He knows he is handing over the reins to a very capable successor.

Stepping into Arie’s mud-caked boots is Tim March, who will expand on his current Research and Development responsibilities for Rijk Zwaan, Australia.

“I feel really good about handing things over to Tim. He is the right person to take the company to the next level,” says Arie.

“I’ve achieved as much as I could. Tim is a thoughtful, people-orientated person. I think he is a really good representation of Rijk Zwaan’s values. That excites me a lot, to see what Tim will achieve.”

Steven Roberts, Arie Baelde and Tim March

Caption: Arie Baelde with the Managing Directors of Rijk Zwaan Australia, Steven Roberts and Tim March

While Arie feels confident about Rijk Zwaan’s future, there is something he will find hard to leave behind.

“What I will miss most will be working as a part of a team - I think that will be the hardest adjustment for me.”

For a man who spends a lot of his time thinking about vegetables, he is surprisingly quick to choose his favourite.

“I love witlof – it’s quite hard to get in Australia but I love it’s bitter taste,” he says.

We know that Arie’s retirement will be full of adventure and activities – but what does he actually have planned?

“I’m not much of a planner, so I will probably wait until my first day of retirement to sit down and have a proper think about it!” he says.

“I am passionate about the natural world, so I’d love to get involved in some environmental activism. My Daylesford property sits on 20 acres of land, where I grow apples, pears, raspberries and blueberries, plus I have some cows, so there’s also plenty of work to be done here.”

Arie lives with his partner Sue, who also worked for Rijk Zwaan in Australia for more than 25 years as Human Resources Manager. Over the course of both of their careers, Arie says there’s one thing Sue always gave him.

“Sue always has a lot of advice for me!” he laughs. “I don’t take advice easily. Sue tells me to be less arrogant!”

We thank Arie for his incredible contributions to Rijk Zwaan and wish him all the best for the future!

Arie Baelde