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Hit by a snow drift

De Munck nursery managed to rebuild its business after a snowstorm wreaked havoc

Hydrangea growers Ferry van der Meer and Peter de Munck of Kwekerij De Munck in De Lier, the Netherlands, were hit by heavy snowfall in February 2021. Part of the greenhouse collapsed completely. The entrepreneurs managed to recover by acting quickly and wisely and by cooperating with us as insurers, among others.

They were aware of the weather forecast and had prepared accordingly. Until the snow started falling, hydrangea growers Ferry van der Meer and his brother-in-law Peter de Munck kept the screens closed to keep the heat in the greenhouse. Once the snow had fallen, they took steps to clear it, but it didn't clear. It stayed in place on the greenhouse roof. 
It stopped snowing, and the two partners thought the danger had passed. However, the wind picked up and started blowing the snow toward the neighbouring greenhouse, again causing a hazardous situation. Their neighbour's greenhouse is two metres taller than theirs, which blocked the snow, causing it all to collect at the edge where the two greenhouses meet. “We could see it happening, but there was nothing we could do,” Ferry says.  
 
It was a disaster; one side completely collapsed 
The full extent of the snow damage became clear when they returned to the greenhouse early the next morning. One side had completely collapsed. 'The gutter failed to support the weight of the snow and had buckled. The facade had collapsed along seven 8-metre lengths lattice—56 metres in total. It took the heating pipes, watering system and screen system along with it. It was a disaster," says Ferry. “A battleground of broken glass and twisted metal. You're left thinking: what now?” 

All hands on deck 
The two entrepreneurs immediately switched into recovery mode and went to work. “We returned to the break room and compiled a list of people we would need to help us with this. We drew up an action plan and started making phone calls. It wasn't just a screen that stopped working, but the heating and watering systems as well, which had a huge impact on the rest of the greenhouse. We also called our electrician to shut off all the electricity to prevent other dangerous situations from arising. It was all hands on deck in every way imaginable.” 

Everyone was willing to help 
The entrepreneurs were lucky in multiple ways. First, no one was injured during the collapse. Secondly, all the parties they needed were nearby, and because it was nearing the end of winter, the greenhouse was not in full production. “That gave us complete freedom, space and attention to recover,” Ferry says. 
 
Perhaps most importantly, everyone was willing to help, which helped speed up the recovery. “The construction crew worked seven days a week. Colleagues from the study club came to help move plants. Teammates from my brother-in-law's football club came to pick up glass on weekends,” Ferry sums up. “The regular suppliers also did everything they could to help. They pulled employees from other jobs, and we were able to make great strides through other peoples’ networks. Our damage expert knew someone who could supply diesel heaters, for example.” 

Crop insurance with mitigation costs included 
Those diesel heaters were desperately needed during the winter season. It was freezing, and hydrangeas don't like the cold. “We had to install a barrier screen as soon as possible, and find a way to keep heating the plants. We had two diesel heaters running outside for a week, blowing warm air into the greenhouse through air hoses. That cost us 750 litres of diesel per heater per day. 
 
Fortunately, those costs fell under mitigation costs, which were covered by crop insurance. The two partners had taken out crop insurance with Hagelunie five years earlier but had never realised that their policy also covered mitigation costs. “We were lucky with that because it ended up being extremely expensive.” 


The rebuild required good planning and a lot of consultation with us 
“You can't have a crew performing repairs while a screen is being installed two metres further up. It's just not safe," says Ferry. “All the work had to be carried out in a specific order.” 
 
The partners had daily consultations with all parties involved, agreements were written down and logs were kept. All actions to be carried out were performed in consultation with the damage expert. “The decisions were up to us, but he was constantly there to guide the process. For example, we installed a stiffening beam to make the structure just as strong as it used to be. You can repair the visible damage, but this also eliminates the invisible risks.” 

The greenhouse has now been restored, but can reocurrence be prevented? 
In the end, the growers lost 1,500 m2 of crop area due to the collapsed greenhouse and cold damage before the emergency wall was erected. It could have been much worse without quick recovery and the emergency provisions. They were up and running again within six weeks. “We never dared to consider bankruptcy. It was shoulders to the wheel and full steam ahead from day one," says Ferry. “We were also lucky to have the right people there in time. Everyone's willingness and commitment helped tremendously. It is nice to know that you are not alone.” 
 
The greenhouse has now been restored, but can reocurrence be prevented? “Of course, we also discussed how we can respond to these risks in the future, but realistically, there’s nothing we can do. There is really no way to prevent snow drifts.” 
 
Prevent snow damage – Hagelunie's tips 
Greenhouses can only support a limited amount of snow. The weight of a snowpack can be considerable, especially if it persists or if it snows in combination with rain. Excessive weight can break windows or damage the greenhouse structure. A greenhouse can collapse completely under the weight of snow. 

Read about how to prevent damage
 
More information  
If you want to know more, contact your insurance broker, who will be happy to help.  

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