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Dutch greenhouse vegetables are doing better, aren’t they?

“Without change, it will only get worse.” That was the result of research into the market situation in greenhouse horticulture late 2014, conducted by consultancy agency McKinsey. Growers had to think about whether they really wanted to make a change in horticulture, or if they wanted to go down with a sinking ship. By now, the Dutch greenhouse horticulture has had two fine years. But what has actually changed?

It has been a difficult time. The first years of the 21st century, the Dutch greenhouse vegetable sector did well, and the area gradually grew: from 4,200 hectares in 2000 to 4,986 in 2010. But then everything changed. In 2008, the average result of greenhouse vegetable companies dropped to far below zero. In 2009, it became even worse, and after growers started making a bit of a profit again in 2010, EHEC threw a spanner in the works in 2011. In 2012 and 2013, average incomes increased, but a large part of the companies still didn’t make enough money to continue the business operation. Moreover, the average value of the companies rapidly dropped, and one nursery after another got into trouble. 

Enough reasons for LTO Glaskracht Netherlands to put things right in 2014. In consultation with growers’ associations, they called in consultancy agency McKinsey to find out what was wrong in horticulture. That turned out to be quite a bit. “Fifty per cent of the Dutch greenhouse vegetable companies can currently not meet their obligations to pay, and another 15 per cent have no money to invest in the company. If the sector doesn’t change, the final 35 per cent will also be in trouble,” was the conclusion in 2014. The sector swung into action. In September 2015, the FVO (Federation Vegetables Organisation) was founded, in which growers’ associations were united. Under the leadership of Cees Veerman, Coalitie HOT was founded at the same time. FVO, FloraHolland, Rabobank and various authorities are a part of that. Since its founding, Coalitie HOT has been very busy. They started Ontwikkelbedrijf HOT to boost the restructuring in greenhouse horticulture (this year’s aim is 50 hectares of greenhouse). Sessions were also held with a few hundred entrepreneurs to get a clearer idea for the future of horticulture. Inspirational, online stories are used for that.

But the greenhouse horticultural situation has improved even without all of these activities. Late 2015, when the FVO and Coalitie HOT were still in talks, the LEI (Agricultural Economical Institute) reported on a ‘historically good’ greenhouse vegetable year. With an average income of 274,000 euro, the car sellers in the Westland worked overtime. In 2016, the success continued, and by now, the entire greenhouse horticulture sector is moving again. A considerable catch-up effort is even being made right now: the area of greenhouse vegetables is increasing significantly again. The only obstacle to that is horticulture itself: growers have to call three greenhouse builders before they’ll find someone to help them. The suppliers of building materials sometimes don’t even answer the phone, and the ‘for sale’ signs at greenhouse state agents have been replaced by ‘wanted’ pamphlets.

In short, even without changes the sector did much better. Should that restructuring therefore not happen? Coalitie HOT doesn’t think so, even though they also hear other opinions. “Last year, we all made more money again, and the willingness to change is decreasing. To actually realise the restructuring and the sustainability catch-up effort, it’s important for the entire sector to see the good in that. If we continue in this manner, we won’t make any money tomorrow,” Cees Veerman recently warned. And the GroentenFruit Huis also concluded in a competitor’s analysis by order of the FVO that the market for Dutch bell pepper, cucumber and aubergine hasn’t grown quite enough yet. “An important conclusion is that the Dutch product is becoming less important on various sales markets, in part thanks to the extension of the Spanish cultivation season, combined with a lower cost price and an improvement of quality.”  

Publication date: 6/19/2017


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