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The Netherlands's cooperatives have made it a key player in the global flower market, and they are the reason it will remain so. Co-ops make the Dutch flower industry more flexible compared to that of other countries. These are the findings of doctoral researcher Andrew Gebhardt, who will receive his PhD from the University of Amsterdam on 6 February.

Flower auction Aalsmeer

In his research, Gebhardt describes how the Netherlands, and the town of Aalsmeer in particular, became the centre of the world's flower industry. He specifically focuses on FloraHolland Aalsmeer, the largest auction of cut flowers and plants in the world. Almost 65 per cent of all cut flowers and plants sold in the world are sold via the Netherlands.

The value of cooperative networks

'Cooperative networks are of great value to the flower industry in the Netherlands', Gebhardt explains. 'The risk is distributed among all the members due to their shared ownership. This makes them flexible, which means that they can respond quickly to changes in the market. Furthermore, the growers share essential information with each other such as the latest developments in the industry. This is in contrast to the standard business model in which management makes the big decisions and companies are in competition with one another.'

For his research, Gebhardt interviewed dozens of people who have or once had a connection with the flower auction in Aalsmeer, ranging from growers to sellers and from auctioneers to pensioners. He also travelled to Ethiopia, where he spoke to many people who are active in the flower trade. A great deal of the flowers traded in Aalsmeer originate in East Africa where the climate is better suited to growing roses.

Collaboration, historical patterns, friendships and networks all shape everyday business at the flower auction, and not market forces as is generally assumed. Gebhardt feels that the Dutch flower industry is definitely a sector to keep an eye on in this time of financial crisis given that it has suffered very little from the worsened economic climate.

The flower auction – a unique system – holds a further advantage. Gebhardt: 'Growers don't need to worry about selling their product because it's auctioned off. This means they can focus entirely on the growing itself. Because it's a small world in which knowledge is passed on by family members and friends, there is a great deal of expertise in this industry.'

The rise of the modern the flower culture

Gebhardt also looked at the industry's past. 'The beginnings of the commercial flower culture as we know it today can be traced back to the Netherlands and the tulip in the 17th century. The tulip represented a marriage of science and aesthetics in a way we are familiar with today. It was the beginning of the serious examination and refinement of each generation of flower. Early botany and decorative gardening overlapped with and were made possible by scientific discoveries, ingenious economic practices, increased trading, spatial planning and a culture of aesthetic consumption. These were connected by social practices, a shared vision and cooperative companies that made it possible to distribute risk more evenly.'

Publication details

A.C. Gebhardt, The Making of Dutch Flower Culture Auctions, Networks and Aesthetics. Supervisor: Prof.  F. Gouda. Co-supervisor: Dr. A.T. Strating.

Time and location

The PhD ceremony will take place on Thursday 6 February at 12:00.
Location: Agnietenkapel, Oudezijds Voorburgwal 231, Amsterdam