THE EARLY DAYS
Peat was already being extracted in De Peel, a region in the southeast of the Netherlands, in around 1850. This peat was used for fuel and as stable litter. Sjef Swinkels lived nearby, in the village of Asten. This was where he started extracting peat for commercial purposes at the beginning of the 20th century. It was a hard life. He was up early cutting peat every morning except Sundays. He took the peat to Helmond and ’s-Hertogenbosch by horse and cart to sell it. In 1924, he had to start keeping records and register as a company. He listed himself as a peat trader, and this was the official start of the business that would later become Legro.
OUR FIRST LORRY
The company grew rapidly in the years that followed. It leased around 50 hectares of peat fields and employed no fewer than 100 people. It also acquired its first lorry.
FROM PEAT TO POTTING COMPOST
At around the same time, horticulture began to develop around Venlo. The Swinkels brothers responded to this demand by switching from selling peat to supplying potting compost. They turned a baling machine into a peat soil mill to use for mixing peat and farmyard manure. The result was an excellent potting compost which they supplied to professional growers. But the productivity of Dutch horticulture increased so rapidly that there was soon a need for better and better blends.
THE BROTHERS SWINKELS
The demand for peat decreased after World War II, when people switched to heating their homes with coal and natural gas. Around that time, Sjef’s four sons took over the company and appropriately named it De Gebroeders Swinkels (The Brothers Swinkels).
The next step that the brothers took was to produce casing soil for the up-and-coming mushroom cultivation sector. In the early 1960s, the brothers split up and one of them, Harry Swinkels, continued the company, renaming it Legro, an abbreviation for levende grond (living soil).
PRODUCTS FOR HOME GARDENERS
When home gardening became popular in the 1960s and 1970s, demand for potting compost among consumers increased. Legro invested in a semi-automated machine to fill bags. At this time a large percentage of the company’s sales came from consumer products.
CONTINUED SPECIALISATION AND PROFESSIONALISATION
When Sjef Swinkels, Harrie’s son, took over at the helm in 1976, he focused specifically on supplying professional growers. Legro underwent a number of changes under his management. He split up the business activities devoted to casing soil and potting compost and established a separate transport division. This gave Legro more opportunities to continue specialising and professionalising.
Legro is located in a border region of the Netherlands and had always exported to Germany and Belgium. In the 1980s, its export activities expanded to countries such as the UK, Australia and the USA. Meanwhile, the raw materials for Legro’s products were also coming from various parts of the world. In the 1990s, Legro started importing coir from India and peat from Eastern Europe. Legro also bought peat fields in that region in 2005.
In around 1990 Sjef noticed opportunities for Legro in a new raw material: coir. This product has beneficial properties but also contains high levels of salts that would adversely affect plant growth. After a number of years, a method known as buffering was developed to make the product safe as a growing medium.
Legro today is still just as passionate about developing, improving and producing substrates for your products. What could be more satisfying than working with products that nature gave us? We are committed to helping provide a world population of 10 billion people with healthy food. And we’re doing it honestly, unpretentiously, and with respect for each other and our planet