27 Jul. 2020


Legro Mushroom Casing Solutions, formerly Topterra, has moved from Wanssum to Cuijk, in the port of Katwijk. And no, not by the sea but by the river Maas. Time for a chat with the owners of Legro Group, father and son Sjef and Franc Swinkels.

Legro Mushroom Casing Solutions B.V. is part of Legro Group B.V., an organisation with a history dating back to 1924. On 1 May, the company moved from its production site in Wanssum to Cuijk. Sjef Swinkels’ father started producing casing soil for mushroom cultivation in the early 1960s, under the name Gebroeders Swinkels. This casing soil was still produced with peat from the Peel. This continued until the mid-1970s, when peat extraction from this Dutch region stopped.

Nooyen casing soil
In 1976, the management of Legro came into the hands of Sjef Swinkels. Ready-made casing soil was not produced at that time, but raw materials for casing soil were still supplied to Belgian customers who made the end product themselves. Sjef Swinkels: “In 1978, Piet Nooyen of Nooyen Compost in Helenaveen asked if we wanted to take up the production of casing soil again. In this partnership, I then set up the company Nooyen Dekaarde together with Piet. This was all running smoothly. Unfortunately, Piet died due to a fatal accident. In the same period, we were growing quite out of our depth in Asten, where Nooyen Dekaarde was located, and with the takeover of Interterra in Wanssum, we decided to move the entire production branch of casing soil to Wanssum.”

The years around the turn of the century were a busy period for the Swinkels family. Sjef: “We were always growing, and because most of the raw materials came from Germany, something that is still the case as far as casing soil is concerned, we decided to have part of our packaged casing soil produced at Humuswerke Worpswede. We also took over the remaining shares of the Nooyen company, and at the same time we wanted more sales for the cutting market. The relatively small Brill casing soil, owned by Lam Janssen, was doing quite well there with a casing soil that included stone grindings. We acquired Brill, and because we fully owned Nooyen Dekaarde, we decided to change the name to Topterra Holland B.V.”
In 2005, German Humuswerke Worpswede was also incorporated, from where German customers were now supplied directly. In 2010, a new production hall was completed in Worpswede.

Wanssum was a good location for Topterra. Not too far from the customers, and on the river Maas, which meant raw materials could be delivered directly by ships. Swinkels: “We actually knew for 10 years that we would have to leave eventually. The province had big plans for the area, a ring road was being built around the village, which is now almost finished, and would shrink our already limited space even further. In the end, it was really struggling. For quite some time, we could no longer park our trucks in Wanssum; they were in Helmond. The logistics were a real challenge, I can tell you.” So the then Topterra had to look for a new location, and after looking at a number of options over the years, they ended up in Cuijk. Swinkels: “For us, it was especially important to find a location that had to meet a few conditions. The location in relation to our customers had to be good, but a large waterway, directly adjacent to the site, is of the utmost importance to us. We also want to produce only mushroom casing soil at this location, and not mix it with other Legro activities.

Cuijk already came into the picture of 2017 as a new location for Topterra, which changed its name from Topterra Holland B.V. to Legro Mushroom Casing Solutions in 2018. At the same time, the German branch Humuswerke Worpswede GmbH was renamed Legro Germany GmbH. “Legro, do you know what that means?” asks Swinkels, “Living soil. That’s how we see our product, of course, and in casing soil the mushrooms come to life. In terms of name, we like to stick to the origins of our company. It is a family business, but until 2018, in an export market that is important to us, Australia, we had a branch of Legro for the substrates and Topterra for the casing soil. Not exactly efficient. Franc pointed this out to me, we also wanted to join forces externally and, besides, it is clear for everyone to continue under one name. Legro makes substrates for soft fruit, tree cultivation, young plants and mushrooms.

This site, because it is meant for mushrooms only, often has different input streams than our other farms. The base for casing soil still comes from Germany, and we expect to continue there for at least another 10 years. The situation is different for other substrates; the lighter peat already comes mainly from the Baltic states. The horticultural branch is saying goodbye to German peat, but underneath there is still black peat for casing soil.

In Cuijk, on the current Legro site, there used to be a sawmill, which was dismantled due to business closure. The plot in Wanssum was 1.5 hectares, in Cuijk Legro now has access to 9 hectares. “Should we have to supply raw materials overseas, volumes will increase and so will the need for storage capacity,” says Swinkels. “We will now offer a broader pallet to mushroom growers, because we are much more flexible. Our production process an sich does not change, but we can make more different mixtures. We have more space covered here than our entire plot in Wanssum.”

Size matters
Indeed, on entering the truly enormous hall, which was first completely gutted and then rebuilt, one notices that all raw materials and mixtures are neatly arranged in large compartments. Trucks have room to unload and drive around. 1 conveyor belt comes directly from the adjacent port, and work is still in progress on a cross conveyor that can unload product from the ship directly into any chosen storage, without the intervention of a loading shovel. All storage is indoors. Swinkels: “This should result in an even more consistent product. We do two-thirds of our sales from here in bulk for the Western European market, and one-third packaged for global export. We assume that the demand for increasingly different casing soil, to facilitate a certain specialised crop, will increase, the way casing soil is made will change. We are ready for it!”

Article is from Mushroom Business July 2020. www.mushroombusiness.com www.mushroombusiness.com