How Immigrating to Canada Launched This Dutch Entrepreneur’s Business
Eltjo van Cingel is the son of Dutch potato farmers who immigrated to Canada in 1982. Interested in working with the land like his parents, he earned his Masters in Plant, Soil & Environmental Sciences in 1992. After several years in product development for New Brunswick’s limestone industry, van Cingel set out on an entrepreneurial journey.
The result is Soil Crop & Water Solutions, a New Brunswick-based liquid fertilizer producer offering innovative soil solutions to a variety of international customers. Its signature product, Crop Fuel®, took 4 years to develop via the help of soil and tissue samples from various crops on multiple continents. Crop Fuel is now exported throughout North America, the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, and more.
Opportunities NB (ONB) spoke to Eltjo to learn about operating from New Brunswick, his recent visits to China, and more.
ONB: Your family came to Canada in 1982. Why New Brunswick?
van Cingel: My parents wanted to leave Holland because there were simply too many people in a small region, and regulations were getting out of hand. We saw an ad in a farming magazine advertising a farm for sale in New Brunswick — my parents were intrigued. They came to Canada, visited New Brunswick, Ontario, and Prince Edward Island, and ultimately decided to buy the farm from the ad. The tremendous freedom and ample space that New Brunswick offered ended up being the reasons for making the move.
ONB: Tell us exactly what the company does from its New Brunswick location.
van Cingel: Our company offers liquid fertilizer manufacturing and development, as well as agricultural consulting for a variety of crops. Potatoes are the big one, but we deal with everything from canola to tulips; if it grows, Crop Fuel can help. Product is fully developed and bottled here in New Brunswick. Since 2004, my father has been helping me with research and sales in Europe. Dad is my eyes and ears on the ground so I don’t have to travel there often.
ONB: You mentioned ample space, but other benefits have you seen from operating here?
van Cingel: The lack of too-strict regulations compared to where we came from, that’s a big one. If I want to expand, as I did in 2011, I don’t have to spend months or even years trying to get all the permissions and permits to build. You can pretty much just do it. It’s your land; put what you want on there.
We’ve had no problem finding good workers here, and we’re on the East Coast so exporting to places like Europe is simple enough. Land is affordable here as well.
ONB: You recently took part in New Brunswick’s trade mission to China. Tell us about that experience. Do you have any big takeaways?
van Cingel: It was actually my second trip this year, my first was an exploratory trip with my wife this summer. There is a lot of agricultural opportunity in China; there’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 million family farms in China. These are small farms; we’re talking one to two acres each. The larger farms are either privately-owned or a combination of private and state-owned. They can run from 3,000 acres to over 10,000 acres. Those are the big ones I visited. I’m going back again to see one of the largest potato growing areas I haven’t visited yet. I’m really hoping to connect with growers and get some research accomplished there in summer.
It takes a while to do real business in China because you have to create a trust with customers there. Language is an issue at times. Fortunately, on the trade mission, I had a translator. It’s much more effective to go through groups like ONB for reasons just like that. Your team put me in touch with all the right people; I simply could not have found the best contacts on my own.
I have a couple contacts now that are interested in distribution and can help with importing into China. Dealing with things like product registration and trademarking the Crop Fuel logo, those are all things I didn’t know much about. That was a huge benefit of participating in a province-organized mission.
Crop Fuel® is a unique foliar fertilizer which supplies the plant with macro and micro nutrients as well as stimulating the growth of more roots, increasing both the quantitative and qualitative yield of the crop. Visit www.cropfuel.nl to learn more.
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