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Belgian horticulture restless, but not growing

The Dutch greenhouse horticulture is experiencing an unprecedented growth this year. After a period of stagnation, a considerable catch-up effort is being made. Belgian horticulture is also in development, but there’s hardly any growth. And that’s not unexpected, considering horticulture didn’t really experience a slump either.

It is not just the Dutch horticulture that is going through a recovery, construction is also taking place in Belgium. Van Amelsfoort Kassenbouw is very busy with it, they’ve noticed the market’s alive. “But it has actually always been alive,” says Sven Fitters. “We’ve been working here for about seven or eight years. This year, the number of projects increased again. We’ve had many requests for next year, that is noticeable. It’s not like the enormous projects seen in the Netherlands, of ten or more hectares. We recently built eight hectares in Merksplas, but we have projects of one to five hectares more often. That’s always been the case for us in Belgium.”

Differently from the Netherlands, there hasn’t really been a major expansion as yet, says Maarten Verhaegen from BelOrta. “It mostly concerns renewal: growers who demolish an existing greenhouse and place a new one. The expansion in horticulture is limited. The last five or six years haven’t had great seasons, so the economic climate isn’t really lending itself to new construction either.” The renovations and expansions are mostly occurring in tomatoes. Another major influence in that is the rise of illumination. “That increases by 15 to 20 per cent each year. The large companies either already have it or are thinking of installing it in the coming season. It’s a trend towards the future. But this year, the expansion will definitely not be more than five per cent.”

Anne-Marie Vangeenberghe, spokesperson for the Flemish association Boerenbond, confirms this. “We don’t have the figures of 2016 yet, but a major expansion is out of the question,” she says. “Perhaps there are more plans, and the builders might have received more requests, because there was some more room, financially. After the EHEC, it took at least two years to recover from the losses, and it wasn’t bad between 2014 and 2016. Perhaps new plans can be made again because of that, but there’s quite a gap between dream and reality.”

“Every year, we notice that the number of horticultural greenhouse companies decreases, while the area stays the same. The little ones are disappearing, the large companies are growing,” Anne-Marie continues. She indicates Belgian horticulture still has many small companies. “Fifty-three per cent of greenhouse vegetable companies is smaller than one hectare, 70 per cent is smaller than 1.5 hectares. But by now, half of the area is filled with companies of three or more hectares.”

That the number of small greenhouse horticultural companies has rapidly decreased in recent years, is also partly due to the cost-effectiveness of these companies. “A few years ago, CHP was introduced in Belgium. The CHP keeps heating costs down, resulting in lower cost prices for companies with CHP. However, there weren’t any models available for smaller companies yet. Between 2005 and 2010, they were in trouble because of that.” Only now smaller CHPs are available, can they find there way back. “Because of that, they can continue to exist.”

Environmental planning
Anne-Marie also points out that environmental planning is important for the company's size in Belgium. “Many greenhouses are closed off on all sides. The plots are smaller and are in residential or industrial areas. Even if they wanted to grow according to Dutch models, it wouldn’t be possible.” Builder Sven also recognises that. “It isn’t as polished as in the Netherlands, where you buy a plot of land and fill it up with construction. In Belgium, it involves more juggling of the plots already owned by the horticulturalist, or the plots they happened to buy from the neighbours.”

Family companies
And there is another point in which the organisation in the sector differs from the Netherlands. “The Dutch companies growing like that are often on larger surfaces,” Maarten says. “The Belgian greenhouse horticulture consists of family companies with accompanying specialisations. They are less likely to suddenly start expanding.” And that is what makes greenhouse construction in Belgium a pleasant sector to work in for Sven. “As a company from Brabant, the Belgian market suits us very well.”

More information:
Van Amelsfoort Kassenbouw
Sven Fitters

Publication date: 7/17/2017


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