Whilst the Netherlands might be the forerunner when it comes to greenhouse techniques, the market situation is anything but next-level. Over the last couple of years growers went through hard times and especially the future of the Westland area is facing challenges. Recently former minister, but also farmer, professor and chairman of Coalitie HOT, the industries retrofitting committee, Cees Veerman gave a presentation on the future of Westland greenhouse horticulture. "I'm very concerned about whether the Westland still has horticulture in twenty years' time."
"At the moment, 50% of Dutch greenhouse vegetable companies are unable to pay their bills, with another 15% having no money to invest in the company. If the sector doesn't change, the remaining 35% will also run into problems." These were our headlines only four years ago. Dutch horticulture went through dark times, and adjustments in the industry were needed. "Without change, it will only get worse", McKinsey concluded.
Restructuring and modernisation
Development company HOT was established in 2015 to stimulate and facilitate the physical restructuring and modernisation of existing greenhouse horticulture areas. Veerman is leading this Coalition, in which Rabobank, FloraHolland and FVO also participate, and authorities are involved as well. However, as chairman he did not have satisfactory figures to present. More than 100 cases have been investigated. Some twenty projects are ongoing and in the past years around 40 hectares have been purchased.
Far too little to achieve a restructuring, the former minister also indicated. "There is a huge wait-and-see attitude in the sector. It is incredibly difficult to buy land at a fair price. And these parcels are often not even linked together, so you cannot offer them as one single parcel. Apparently, in horticulture, in particular in the greenhouse vegetables sector, it is still going too well."
Hardly any new construction
Nevertheless, according to Veerman, there is every reason for the horticulture industry to worry. Besides big players rolling out big greenhouses, hardly any new construction has taken place over the past ten years. In addition, the pre-2000 greenhouses do not meet the requirements of the energy transition, which means that 300 hectares must be modernized annually to meet the climate goals of 2040. In the Westland, even 67% of the greenhouse horticulture companies are from before 2000, and the acreage of an average greenhouse is 2-5 hectares. Meanwhile, the increase in scale continues unabated and 75% of entrepreneurs in the Westland older than 55 have no successor.
"All in all a huge problem. The money for restructuring is available, but you cannot pay more than the market price," Veerman continued. "And the consequences of this can be serious. Just suppose that new greenhouse horticulture locations are being released elsewhere, then this area will simply be vacated. And believe me, the entire Westland will be filled with other activities. But that will have enormous consequences for the area, because also trade and agro-logistics companies are dependent on the production."
Coalitie HOT is now working according to the model which former grower Gerrit Vreugdenhil used to use, who twenty years ago played a decisive role in the restructuring of the two Westland polders, namely the Noord Nieuwlandse Polder and Kreeklanden. His approach was as follows: Some confidential counselors from the area conduct the discussions and build trust. The implementation follows when there is a jointly supported plan, only then the brokers get involved.
The HOT chairman also realized that the approach now does not have the desired effect yet. "But by pulling grass, it will not grow faster. There are two countries that have lost the war, Germany and Japan, that are now two economic superpowers. By diligently using their hands and brains, they have built up their countries. In the Westland there also must be a collective urge to keep this area up and running.”