Milestone Sensus: thirty years of chicory cultivationSeptember 2, 2021
In September, Sensus will start its thirtieth chicory campaign. A milestone that marks a period of mega achievement. Because three decades ago, not only cultivation of a new crop started. A worldwide sales market for inulin also had to be built up and a brand new factory for processing chicory was put into use in Roosendaal. “Sensus has been made a success through trial and error.”
René Schunselaar, Agro Manager at Sensus, is involved from the very beginning of the chicory cultivation. “At the end of the eighties, Dutch agriculture was in crisis with a limited variety in crops and poor prices for cereals in particular. There was a need for a fourth crop, in addition to potatoes, sugar beets and cereals. Cosun saw opportunities in a developing inulin market and took the plunge together with a partner.”
Schunselaar started contracting farmers who wanted to grow chicory in mid-1991. “The first target was 2,000 to 2,500 hectares. I immediately approached CZAV and Agrifirm to help. We are still working with these agencies. The interest was overwhelming. Crowded rooms with curious farmers who were eager to start growing.”
It was pioneering the first ten years. From contract conditions to cultivation techniques and from making seed available to efficient harvesting by contractors, everything had to be developed for profitable chicory cultivation. Schunselaar: “It was a challenging start. Things went wrong with crop emergence, weed control and harvest. Several farmers dropped out. It also became more difficult to contract growers. In addition, the newly built factory in Roosendaal for processing chicory showed the usual teething problems. And a non-existing international inulin market had to be developed. That is why at first fructose was mainly produced for the sweetener market in Europe. But with lower margins. It was only with the phasing out of the European sugar market regulation from 2005 that we completely switched to the production of inulin, the sales of which started to gain momentum.”
"Cultivation matured, production increasingly became a well-oiled machine and inulin sales started to grow"
“During the first decade of our existence, we often had setbacks. Our partner got out, but Cosun persevered. And with success. Cultivation matured, production increasingly became a well-oiled machine and inulin sales started to grow.”
10 tons of inulin
The chicory acreage has now more than doubled. Chicory is one of the few potential fourth crops that remained. The farmers have mastered the cultivation. Schunselaar: “Chicory is a sustainable crop. Diseases and pests, such as fungi and insects, have hardly any influence on it. The only major challenge remains weed control, partly because less and less herbicides are allowed. But thanks to mechanical weed control, where we support the growers by, among other things, making machines available, such as hoeing and weeding equipment, we should be able to come to a more hybrid solution that combines a combination of crucial herbicides with non-chemical alternatives.”
In addition, Sensus has set up a program to increase the average crop yield from 7 to 10 tons of inulin per hectare. “We are on the right track”, concludes Schunselaar with satisfaction.
Iwan Blankers draws this conclusion for Sensus as a whole, of which he has been CEO since December 2008. “The pioneers at the time made Sensus a success with a great deal of perseverance, confidence and a vision of the chance of success. It was missionary work to bring inulin to the world as a prebiotic soluble dietary fiber, which also can replace sugar and fat, with proven and substantiated health benefits. Our story has gradually landed more and more. Today, inulin is a well-known and widely used ingredient and Sensus has built up a strong position.”
"Today, inulin is a well-known and widely used ingredient and Sensus has built up a strong position”
Thanks to the growing inulin sales, Sensus will significantly expand its factory capacity in Roosendaal in the coming years. When asked where Sensus will be in ten years, Blankers answers: “In addition to being the leading player in the field of soluble fibers, such as inulin, we will be a leader worldwide in offering healthier solutions with various vegetable ingredients, thereby contributing to the well-being of future generations.”