An interview with Arjen Smith and Rob Smith of SB Soli Plants- A Netherlands Distributor

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ROGER:
Please share about your firm. What you do and how?
Arjen
We’ve been working together with BTU for approximately two years now. SB Soli Plant is a
relative young company and we try to specialize in everything between granular fertilizer and
chemical plant protection products. We prefer products which are sustainable, a little bit
greenish, but not necessarily organic. We have a farming history that goes back until 2019 when
we quit and decided to be on the other side of the farming supply chain. We started making
successful “greenish” products available for farmers in the Netherlands and Europe. We are an
independently owned and
operated family company
with principles,
responsibility,
entrepreneurship, and trust.
When selecting new partners
or individual products, we
try to reduce cost for a
farmer, improve yield or
quality or contribute to
sustainable farming, but
preferably all three. The
Dutch market is very
competitive and very critical when it comes to introducing new products.
Looking from agricultural perspective, we have some crops that are very unique, like the flower
bulbs, the famous tulips, but we also grow a lot of maize and we have some high yielding
vegetable crops as well located in different parts of Netherlands. For us, it’s vital to work with
established parties that can provide us with good products, good support and know their
technology as we sell.
We basically operate in every crop such as fruits, greenhouses horticulture, also combinable
crops such as cereals. If we look at the BTU products that we’ve been working with in the
Netherlands, we see a lot of potential in for Liposam, Azotohelp, Groundfix, Rizoline, Fitobact
and Ecostern. We see new products with end binding capacities entering the market every day
and that is why we are so happy that we can work with BTU because the product has been tested
for a long period. We also get the support that allows us to demonstrate the products in trials
competing with other products.
We try to work with proven products or products that have been in the market successful for
many years. We try not to be a testing farm for products. We try to supply products that have a
proven value for the farmer because if you cannot demonstrate that to the farmer, then they are
not likely to use it again. I think one of the things that really sets us aside from everyone is our
family owned farm until only a few years back. We try to implement sustainable products so that
we can also be supportive to farmers in the Netherlands and Europe for the many years to come.
Roger Tripathi with his passion for BioAg and to bring real
stories out in the light is going to the real people, He was in
Germany with BTU Centre office, but with the people who
are really doing the work. He met the Father (Arjen) and Son
(Rob) team from SB Soli Plants. They are based in
Amsterdam and servicing this whole productive area known
for very innovative and demanding farmers. They are
originally from the farming background, so they understand
the farmers’ psyche, the real need and why they should be
taken care of. Now they have started this business where they
want to bring innovative solutions to the growers in this
region.
To do this, we cooperate with local and international businesses that share the same values.
That’s one of also one of our strengths here, open minded people. We are not managers who have
to say this or bad. We are what we are, and that’s very important that my sons also keep that.
ROGER
Why do you call your business SB Soli plants?
Arjen
Well, it has a few reasons. First, we try to make a name which you can use internationally. Smith
(Family Name) and brothers are important for us and we didn’t want to have a very long title, so,
we choose for SB. Another major reason is there are a lot of big companies, industrial
companies. But in the end it is all about farmers and the farmers always are family with family
values. So we aimed the fact on that and in fact “family ID” is the highest value we have and
farmers understand that.
ROGER
How long did you do the farming and why did you decide to change into this business?
Arjen
I did the farming for about 48 years. I was third generation farmer and my sons should be the
forth. The reason why we changed was because I was a little bit bound in my own company. As
long as you have success, you keep on going. But my sons were studying, and we tried to give
them the chance to study internationally and it cost us. They had another vision to work in what
they wanted. We needed to take big steps to be on the top of the market in the company. So, it
was a choice. With discussion between us to go further and in my age, I was at that time 60, we
choose to give the advantage to our sons to proceed with our family company. We are now in
with the products and everything is based on the plant.
ROGER
Your heart is still in the farmer centricity the growers needs.
Arjen
Yes, I so I strongly believe in that because it’s the farmer who has to give us all a living. But I
give you a good example of that. Sometimes you see a farmer with a problem and you have a
product you can help them with, but it’s not registered in some countries. In other country, it’s
allowed and then always have the need to give it for help. And then my son Rob was the CEO
who said “we must work with regulations, otherwise it’s not good.” So yeah, and I think there are
a lot of products even they do. Our partner has a lot of products, fungicides, insecticides which
can resolve a lot of problems, but it is not allowed by regulation. And fortunately, my son Rob is
strong in regulations and that’s always a discussion for practice. I strongly believe in ‘nature
from nature’ and without those kind of natural products like McGraw or Enismas etcetera,
agriculture in the future is not possible. We must go back to the basic with those products. I
strongly believe in that.
ROGER
Rob, you told me about your brother that he’s studying similar things and applying the same
learnings in your business and he’s a physiologist as well and he’s trying to practice a lot of
things he’s learning in the business, which is fantastic because that’s what we need. How are you
applying your education? What? What did you do?
Rob
I did a Bachelor of Science in agricultural business management, so in the day-to-day that’s part
of it is economics, logistics, regulations, production ventures. I tried to basically give my father
and brother all the space they need to do the product technical aspects and just facilitate all the
other things that you need as a professional company to actually make it happen. And that’s part,
big part of that these days is the regulations because just that the product is low risk does not
mean that you can automatically use it in a country. With right motives, you also need to be able
to offer a full package to your clients which three of us combined are able to offer very well so
far.
ROGER
So basically you’re combining the experience and the technical knowledge with your
professional take on things, and then your brother brings in the new education and what he’s
learning and how it can be applied, that’s fantastic. So, how did you find BTU Center?
Rob
I think BTU found us. At that time we were looking into getting started more with micro-
biologicals basically because we think that it’s a really big part of the solution. We were in
contact with several companies and were testing some products in early stage on our own
premises. Dimitro reached out to us at the right time and we compared some of the products
together. But we do not just compare products, we also try to compare the business case. Is there
a business case for this product in the crop where we think it has the most potential. We’ve seen a
lot of situations where products can be very promising technically, but the costs are so high that
it is not practical. Companies have a huge database with knowledge about the products, but can
you mix it up with active components or not. These are some of the practical issues that we run
into on a daily basis. What really attracted us to BTU Centre was that they have their own strain
library, their own production processes and know their supply chain really well.
Also, we see a lot of the producers for micro-biologicals but their orientation is slightly more
towards the southern parts of Europe. Their products work really well in the warmer parts of
Europe. But in Netherlands, we have a bit more harsh climate, we need micro-biologicals to not
only survive but to function in our conditions. BTU Centre just came out on top for us and
contract is going very well, which is also important.
Dmytro
We are always active, sometimes actively searching for something specific or single minded
partners. Our business has a philosophy and we are looking for companies who are in sync, who
want to make impact on agro technologies, to help farmers with challenges but do it in a
professional way. That is why the first thing which attracted us to SB Soli Plant was they already
have some experience with biologicals. Secondly and more importantly how responsibly they
consider each opportunity from the beginning. They start from some pragmatic tests on their own
land. Farmers’ experience is very crucial in proper selection of most efficient solutions for them.
We appreciate this approach very much. We also visited Desire Bright office in Netherlands with
which I have a funny story because I almost broke my nose with glass. Offices are dangerous.
We appreciate it very much and it’s a growing company, very consistent and technical with
values and I believe that this kind of approach is fundamental and in BTU we also follow this.
We don’t seek for quick results, but we seek for strategic projects, strategic way through small
steps but the big future and I believe it’s right choice.
ROGER
Is there something very striking you’re finding with the BTU product range which you feel is
really fitting your needs?
Rob
Thing what we really like about the BTU product range is that if you look In Europe I think the
biggest part of the products is some sort of organic certification available. If you look at the
market where we operate, you need an additional extra organic certification, otherwise the
government does not recognize it as suitable for organic farming. The organic farmers are
usually already on a very high level. If we look at making farming more sustainable, we see a
trend of conventional farmers trying to implement organic techniques. The conventional farming
system that we have aims to produce a lot of output at very low costs. So, for us as a company,
we tend to look at the opportunity for new sustainable technique and the demand for a certified
organic input in agriculture? If the farmer itself is a conventional farmer, he’s not going to sell it
as organic, but we can still make the product available for them with the sustainable technique
that is usually our aim.
ROGER
What is LACQUA Twin?
Rob
Lacqua Twin is the brand of the nutrient analysis kit that we use on site to demonstrate some of
the specialty fertilizer products that we carry. And it’s just a great way to not only know that a
nutrient is there, but also that the nutrient enters the plants. It allows for very pragmatic trialing
on the soil of the farmer. So we are less reliant on trial stations for demonstration purposes. And
one of the big things I really like about it is that it allows for us to do our trials on greater plots
because what we see is that to really demonstrate a product, we like to put it into practice and
that’s sometimes best done at farm level. One of the major advantages is you can give after
measuring a tailor made advice for the product on that moment on that soil and that environment
and that gives a lot of advantages.
And we’ll talk next time, as we are running out of time, why I have started focusing on
BioAgTech. We have some good bio product products, but you also know that a lot of them are
snappers. We don’t know what the mode of action is. We don’t know why they are working even
if they are working. So, when we have the new technologies available through our new agtech
innovations, we should try to integrate that for the confidence boosting of the farmers. And not
only that, but they also give you a clear, precise recommendation tool, so the farmers don’t have
to apply something which they really don’t need.
Roger: Anything that you would like to add?
Dmytro
For me it’s such a discussion and opportunity to exchange this knowledge and give at least a
small boost to the industry because we are doing the right things. I appreciate our partnership
with SB Soli Plant, we invite them also to our educations with our international partners because
all of us have some unique experience but we work in similar manner. We are introducing
biologicals, helping farmers to grow in more healthy and responsible way. So, if we have this
experience discussing and exchanging it, we would have a big synergy. That is why I also
appreciate Roger’s platform and the Congress with so many different approaches discussed and
discovered. I look forward for this coming event and to learn more and to make this world better.U