Strawberry farming has noticeably shifted from open to covered cultivation in recent years. Along with tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumbers, strawberries are now a fully-fledged greenhouse crop. There are notable expansion projects with high-tech glass greenhouses. For several reasons, that is, however, not always possible. A foil greenhouse can then offer a solution. This year, the Lambrechts family chose to expand with such a - still high-tech - foil greenhouse.

Dries, Kris and Stijn Lambrechts

The family has land in Belgium that used to house a tree nursery but now boasts a 2.2-hectare foil greenhouse. That is not these strawberry growers' first greenhouse. Kris Lambrechts and his wife, Tinne Peeters, took over the company from Kris' parents in 2001. They slowly grew until they reached more than 12 hectares. The two growers and their sons, Dries and Stijn, do glass and plastic greenhouse and rack cultivation.

With Dries and Stijn in the fold, the company had plans to expand even more. They wanted land nearby for this most recent expansion. That is hard to come by in Belgium, as well as being allowed to build on it. A glass greenhouse would not work in the chosen location. Constructing a foil greenhouse with a much lower roof offered a solution. The Ventrio foil greenhouse stands 3.4 m high, far lower than most modern glass greenhouses.

In the fall, this foil greenhouse houses the Elsanta variety. Next year, they want to cultivate an ever-bearer, says Dries. More and more strawberry growers are considering these varieties. Delphy trials show that instead of a sprint, with an accompanying labor spike, cultivation becomes a marathon with more even but longer and more stable production.

This winter, the family will switch the lights back on at a different location to grow a winter crop under lights. They gained experience with this kind of crop in the 2021/2022 season but skipped last winter because of the energy crisis, Dries points out. This year, however, Coöperatie Hoogstraten, which handles the growers’ sales, can expect winter strawberries again.

The new greenhouse - though there are currently few new horticultural projects - is not the strawberry sector's only one. This year, major glasshouse growers Royal Berry and Brookberries also opened new greenhouses, while Dutch Berries tops 40 hectares with its recently announced expansion. Internationally, covered strawberry cultivation is popular, too, with, for instance, several North American growers moving into strawberry cultivation.

Many Dutch and Belgian strawberries are grown for local consumption. They are exported, but relative to how much Dutch production remains in the country, that is still limited.

In the Netherlands, covered strawberry acreage in greenhouses and permanent tunnels has nearly doubled in a decade. Flanders, too, shows a steady increase in acreage. In recent years, Flemish statisticians consistently point to a shift from open to covered cultivation. Outdoor farming yielded 10.2% in 2023, while greenhouse cultivation rose 9.5%. In 2022, Dutch outdoor cultivation counted 839 hectares for production. Of Flanders' total 1,040 hectares in 2023, 416 were permanently covered.

In recent years, the Dutch and Flemish covered strawberry acreage has mostly remained unchanged. Preliminary figures for 2023 for those regions even show a slight decrease. The energy crisis made itself felt in strawberry farming, too, especially among the still many smaller growers. Existing growers are expanding, and new growers are being added by, say, converting a tomato greenhouse to a strawberry one.