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Belgian greenhouse horticulture constantly developing

While construction in Dutch greenhouse horticulture has stagnated in recent years, in Belgium great construction projects are still being realized. And yet, the total Belgian greenhouse acreage has gone down this century. How is the sector developing?

Greenhouse horticulture in Belgium is mainly focused in Flanders, which had about 1,930 hectares in 2013, spread out over 1,514 companies (food and floriculture). Greenhouses are found all over Flanders, with a notable concentration in Antwerp (847 hectares) and in East and West Flanders (426 and 471 hectares respectively).

In terms of revenue, tomato is the most important product, accounting for about 180 million Euro a year, followed by strawberry (117 million Euro) and bell pepper (37 million Euro). In terms of acreage, tomato (522 ha) only has head lettuce (740 ha) ahead of it. Strawberry, the second most important product when it comes to revenue, also takes up a much smaller acreage: 316 hectares. The total acreage of greenhouse horticulture in Belgium has gone down this century. From 2250 hectares in 2000 to a low of 1,750 hectares in 2011. The decrease is mostly due to the ageing sector. In 2012, 30 percent of the acreage was more than 20 years old, and another 40% of the acreage was between 10 and 20 years old.

Emerging large-scale greenhouse horticulture
In the changing sector, upscaling plays a major part. Large-scale greenhouse horticulture is something of recent years in Belgium. In 2007, less than 10% of the tomato nurseries was bigger than 4 hectares. In 2013, that increased to 46%.

There aren’t exact figures for the period after 2013, but it’s clear that greenhouse horticulture in Belgium is still developing. Figures from the Belgian auctions display a spectacular growth, but that isn’t just related to the Belgian greenhouse horticulture. More and more Dutch growers are also finding their way to the Belgian auctions. But one thing is clear: while in the Netherlands, construction has stagnated, in Belgium they’re still investing in large-scale projects. That’s also possible because the financial position of growers is simply better at the moment. In the Netherlands, hardly any equity capital was required for new construction. Now, companies are in trouble financially. In Belgium, a lot more equity capital is required. Furthermore, building in Belgium follows a completely different path. “We don’t have horticulture regions like in the Netherlands. You have to find a piece of land yourself, apply for permits, take care of utilities. That has meant the preparation process took quite a while,” says Kevin Pittoors about his new company.

For many Dutch growers, CHP is a real burden. For Belgian growers, this power-generating system still provides opportunities though. Dutch growers are dealing with outdated CHPs, fallen energy prices and ending maintenance contracts, while in Belgium the power shortage and subsidies make the investment more attractive.

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