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Urban Farmers bankruptcy

"Vertical farming is difficult in the Netherlands"

A lot of attention for the bankruptcy of Urban Farmers in the Netherlands yesterday. The company grew vegetables and fish in a Dutch rooftop farm. From the start, the project was met scepticism and the bankruptcy generated a lot of reactions. Is there room for Urban Farming in Europe?

The greenhouse and the company
Clarification first: UF de Schilde that was declared bankrupt last Tuesday is the company located in the building "The New Farm" in The Hague. The building itself, including the greenhouse on top, is owned by another company. UF de Schilde acted as a tenant. The company grew and sold vegetables and provided guided tours on the sixth floor of the building and, of course, the rooftop farm.

According to Reinier Donkersloot with Consult2Grow, there's definitely opportunities for this rooftop farm. Via Consult2Grow he's connected to The New Farm, the company developing the complete development of the building following a concept focusing on food production, circularity and sustainability. "First and foremost: vertical farming in the Netherlands is hard. Unless you can reach a niche market, you obviously do not need local production. On top the cultivation is suboptimal and your greenhouse is 5-8 times more expensive than in the Westland, only a couple of kilometers nearby", he states. 

Nevertheless, there are certainly opportunities for the concept. "The current bankruptcy follows a longer process. The choice of crop could mean a difference. Growing trout or pike-perch instead of the relatively cheap tilapia, and growing strawberries or blueberries instead of tomatoes and cucumber that are being grown around the corner. Even though it might still be challenging, you're offering a different experience and a product that can be marketed as a specialty."

Together with the curator alternatives like these are being investigated. "For now it is important to take care of the fish and to maintain as many jobs as possible with a new concept. A farm for experience and education, catering and events for example." It is hoped the new concept can be shown in short term. 

The bankruptcy follows the bankruptcy of the Swiss mother company UrbanFarmers AG back in May. Earlier this year, CEO Roman Gaus spoke about the difficulties in vertical farming with a Swiss magazine. "In Switzerland there's not enough differentiation with the normal farms. All growers are urban farmers here", he explained. By then 2/3 of the company was working in the Dutch farm. Roman explained how 50% of the revenue came from hospitality: guided tours and catering for example. 

Is it possible?
Critics of vertical farming can reload their bullets with the bankruptcy of UF de Schilde - but only 60 kilometers away currently the Amsterdam vertical farm GrowX is expanding. “But I can imagine the difficulty it must be to grow tomatoes and fruiting crops in an urban farm next to a global leader in tomato production, known as Westland. It is hard to compete in westland prices and price matters”, says John Apesos of GrowX.

He explains how vertical farming differs from urban growing in rooftop greenhouses. "While Urban Farmers in The Hague grew all kinds of vegetables & fruiting crops, indoor vertical farming usually focuses on producing high value leafy greens inside of warehouses near city centers."

“I think Urban Farmers still fought a good fight on behalf of city citizens who are demanding a new fresh food system. In the United States Gotham Greens is a great example of a success story in rooftop greenhouse farming. Regardless of the failures or successes of any one urban agriculture project, the demand of food production in the urban future is real”, John states. “The Netherlands has everything to win, by learning from failures and continuing to build pioneering projects in urban agriculture. The Dutch economy has a lot of experience of pioneering new food production methods. The strength of the Dutch horticulture eco-system can change the world via bravery in the face of challenges and continuing to build new production systems to export to hungry cities in the Americas, Africa & Asia.”

The trustee currently was unable to comment but states in a press release the standard course after a bankruptcy: a restart is examined.  

Publication date: 7/11/2018



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