Chinese greenhouse horticulture is evolving at a rapid pace. And in the years to come, it shows the possibilities of speeding up, even more, expects Gloria Zhang of climate screen supplier Svensson. But there are also challenges to overcome: among others, the high energy prices and the moderate horticultural expertise level. Gloria is confident that “the collaboration with Dutch Greenhouse Delta and the PIB China will help to present Svensson's value in the market and working together with all the members allows us to provide a total solution of the value chain to growers in this country.”
Climate Screen supplier Svensson has been active in the Chinese market for many years. In fact, the company of Swedish origin has had its own production facility in Shanghai for some twenty years. “Here, we produce not only a wide range of climate screens, but also insect nets, for the Chinese market, but also for other countries in the world,” says Gloria Zhang. She has been a General Manager at Svensson China since 2014. Although she had been working for many other business fields and had worked many years for a Fortune top 500 company before, she now feels completely at home in the sector with her current role. “I studied Mechanical Engineering and later I also took an MBA course,” Gloria tells us. “Seven years ago, I got a chance to work for Svensson and I feel proud of joining it.”
High-tech greenhouse horticulture on the rise
In recent years, Svensson has been involved in many projects in the high-tech greenhouse horticulture sector in China. A few examples of Chinese growers’ successful projects are: the new 6-hectare facility in Yinchuan for the potted rose company Aibida; And also the 20-hectare state-of-the-art greenhouses of vegetable producer Shanghai YouYou (Group), in Shanghai, with new climate solutions. They saved both energy costs and experience effects such as homogenous light giving lower plant temperature and less stress, promoted crop photosynthesis, and steady growth.
Gloria emphasizes that high-tech greenhouse horticulture is clearly on the rise in China. “Especially in recent years, high-tech greenhouse horticulture has been developing rapidly. However, the percentage of high-tech greenhouses is still very low compared to the whole facility agriculture area in China. We are really still at the beginning.”
According to Gloria, both the state-owned companies and private parties are investing in high-tech greenhouse projects. There are several reasons for this. “Food safety and food security are issues which are becoming increasingly important in China. This is, in part, because the middle-class group is rising, which results in a population group demanding higher standards for the quality and freshness of its food. In addition, the Chinese government considers it crucial to be self-sufficient and secure in terms of food supply. The challenges posed by climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic have reinforced this realization.” During the lockdowns, we were somewhat concerned about a shortage of vegetable supply, especially in the beginning. We can see that the Chinese government is supporting in setting up new greenhouse projects in recent years. “Many greenhouse complexes in the vicinity of big cities have already been built, like in Shanghai, but there are still some under developing, like in Beijing. In this way, the chains are kept short, so that food quality and food security can be better guaranteed.”
Hurdles to be overcome
The development of high-tech greenhouse horticulture does, however, still face some hurdles. High energy prices, for example, are putting a heavy strain on companies' profits. “Energy prices are, of course, a global issue, but in China last year the price of gas in peak consumption season in some cities were twice as high. Since many high-tech greenhouses in the country are heated by gas, this creates a heavy burden.”
But the horticultural expertise is perhaps another issue, explains Gloria. Because China has a short modern horticultural history, it takes time to have real local good expertise. Of course, we have seen some very good professionals in the market already in recent years, but the market needs are huge.
Western European suppliers can play a clear role in this. Svensson also supports entrepreneurs in improving their cultivation yields and reducing their energy costs by climate screen solutions and advisory services. For example, by using our energy-saving screens, growers can achieve savings of about 47 up to 70 percent by choosing different types of screens.
Sustainability is another important topic to address, which is linked to green food supply and less use of chemicals is the trend. Svenson’s insect nets help to limit the entry of insects and pests, allowing entrepreneurs to optimize their production and reduce the need for crop protection by using pesticides.
Another challenge in the market is lead time pressure, as new greenhouses owners very often have a very tight construction schedule. That presents challenges for all suppliers on the lead time, Fortunately, we can usually deliver quickly, as we have our own factory in China. To be closer to our clients and increase customer satisfaction is our target.”
Offering total solutions
Nevertheless, Gloria expects that developments in Chinese horticulture will offer plenty of opportunities for Svensson and Dutch suppliers in the years to come. Especially China Government plays a big role, in recent Conference of Rural and Agriculture Work, it gives the guidance of further accelerate the development of the facility agriculture sector. That is very good news," says Gloria. "And a platform like Dutch Greenhouse Delta enables us to seize the opportunities that are and will become available. Especially because, together with the other DGD partners, we can offer a total solution for high-tech greenhouse from the project design to construction extended to cultivation. And that is exactly what parties in China are interested in; it saves them time and money. Meanwhile, in several projects, DGD is very active as an organization, with its initiative, there will undoubtedly be more opportunities.
Affiliation with PIB China
Gloria also has high expectations of the Partners for International Business (PIB) China. This is a cluster of companies - including Svensson - together with the Dutch government and knowledge parties, that are committed to positioning the Dutch greenhouse horticulture sector in China as the partner for the development and implementation of integrated and sustainable high-tech greenhouse horticulture projects. This is being done under the leadership of Dutch Greenhouse Delta and the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO). "We are confident that, by working together within the PIB, we can very efficiently capitalize on the market opportunities that Chinese horticulture offers and also form collaborations.