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"Producing the best rose with as few resources as possible, that's the challenge"

Although a large proportion of roses come from Africa these days, Dutch rose growers are far from standing still. Kwekerij Marjoland from Waddinxveen has invested heavily in sustainability in recent years to make the company future-proof and minimize its impact on the environment. Owner Daniel van den Nouweland tells us more about it.

Originally, Daniel's father started as a cucumber grower in the 1970s. In the mid-1980s, he made the switch to roses. The business continued to expand in the years that followed. Daniel has now been at the helm of the family business for some six years, whose name is a combination of the names of his mother Mariola, his father Joop and the surname Van den Nouweland. On some 20 hectares, the nursery produces nine varieties of roses, of which Red Naomi is the main one in terms of numbers. Soon, the tenth Marjoland rose will be festively introduced.

From growth to efficiency
"Our aim is to provide the best quality roses year-round," says Daniel. "We can do that because in the greenhouse we can control conditions - light, temperature - in such a way that it's basically summer all year round."

"Whereas my father was mainly committed to growth, now it's more about efficiency. In fact, I haven't grown a hectare, but all investments have gone into efficiency and sustainability. How can we get the best possible roses with as few raw materials as possible? That is the challenge, and for me also the essence of what sustainable means. Sustainable growing is about more than just energy consumption, he stresses. "It is also about using soil, water, fertilizers consciously and limiting the use of chemicals as much as possible."

Water is reused, Daniel explains. "Each plant is watered separately with a dripper. Part of the water, about 50%, the plant absorbs. The other half would normally disappear into the soil, but we collect that in a gutter. That is collected in a silo, cleaned and reused. So there is practically no waste of water."

Whereas in the 1990s the number of hectares of rose nurseries in the Netherlands was still around 1,000, it has now dropped to around 200, he says. "Production now mainly takes place in Africa and South America. So the number of hectares in the Netherlands has dropped considerably, but the number of stems produced per hectare has grown. Dutch rose growers have therefore started to produce more efficiently. In my opinion, we also lead the way in the global rose sector in this. Abroad, a rose nursery is also often only profitable from 30 or 40 hectares."

Energy savings
Marjoland saves energy in various ways: "We are now in the process of switching from traditional SON-T lamps via hybrid lighting systems with 50% LED and 50% SON-T lamps to full-LED. This is still a challenge, because SON-T lamps also give off radiant heat, while LED does not. LED is much more energy-efficient for the light it gives, though. So if you look purely at the light component, you have a saving of 40%. The heat component you have to solve at certain times in another way, i.e. with heating, with screens (which retains heat better, ed.), or with a dehumidification system. All in all, these are pretty capital-intensive investments, so we spread that out over several years."

Heating the greenhouse is done with gas. "Extracting geothermal heat is difficult in this area. There is talk of building a heat roundabout that would bring geothermal heat from a nearby source and residual heat from industry to us. Electrification is a godsend for us but due to grid congestion you can see that the infrastructure is not ready for it yet. Gas has had a negative ring to it since Russia's war but I think it is a great transition fuel. Gas is much cleaner than coal and oil. For now, gas is the best option."

As for packaging, the company tries to keep it to a minimum. "We have eliminated cardboard packaging altogether in certain production lines, and reduced it as much as possible in others. Royal FloraHolland has also helped us develop smaller cardboard collars. That has definitely been a plus for us."

Chemicals only when really necessary
The takeover, some six years ago, took place in a time in which switching towards working sustainably was on the rise says Daniel. "You then really start thinking carefully about the future. Sometimes you do get comments about using chemicals. But I don't do that either because I like it, because it also hits the plant.''

''We make full use of biological control agents. For instance, spider mites, trips and whiteflies are already easy to control biologically. Lice are still a challenge though, more growers struggle with that. We have one garden where we use extreme biology on aphids with five different natural enemies. They are expensive creatures, so we are still in the early stages. And sometimes you have to use chemicals because otherwise the rose will be lost. We do try to stretch the spraying rounds and thus spray less."

Acting together
"I think it's a pity that you are hampered in your solutions. I miss the government a bit in that. When you start looking at: how can we tackle this together as smartly as possible? With the ultimate goal of growing everything organically. That process is very fascinating. It would be nice if it could also be a bit of fun, instead of just banning more and more substances straight away. Because that is not necessarily always directly conducive to the process."

"I would like to sit at the table together and make a plan. That we say: in five years we want to get here, and what do we need to get there? At that table should then be the government and greenhouse horticulture representatives. But because you also have to deal with EU legislation, that is complex, I understand. In the EU, greenhouse horticulture is less well-represented compared to arable farming. If greenhouse horticulture is too small, you run into the problem that it is very difficult to introduce new products, including organic ones. They are just very expensive to develop."

Unfair playing field
"I can also get annoyed by the government's energy policy. It shoots in all directions. With an unreliable government, it is difficult to switch gears. Again, the same story. Everyone does agree that the sector needs to become more sustainable. But the way the government facilitates that could be much better."

"The Dutch grower is taxed on energy, while we face an international competitive field. Our counterpart is an African product flown in, while kerosone is not taxed. Europe says: we are going to be hard on sustainability, everything is taxed. The steel industry is working with import levies to create a level playing field. But horticulture is not big enough to do the same. So I don't think the competitive field is level at the moment."

The Netherlands can play key role
"And that while there are also great opportunities. We have a huge high-tech industry in the Netherlands when it comes to horticulture, which leads the world. I expect that in the near future we can play a key role in the problems that are coming our way. You see that when delegates from China and the US come here, they see horticulture as a solution. They see that if you can produce more efficiently, you can solve problems. I sometimes miss that, that window of opportunity. So let us make those innovation strides and give us room to innovate. Then you really get a sector you can be proud of. We are also doing very well compared to many other sectors. That could be brought into the limelight more."

'It is important to have front-runners along'
In that context, it is important for Royal FloraHolland to have front-runners of the transition with you, says Daniel. "Because it does become a problem if the companies at the forefront start to drop out. That would be a real shame when you see all the great things that have been built up in the meantime. A cooperative of so many flower and plant growers in the Netherlands and abroad, it's a wonderful concept. I think wise choices have been made in recent years in terms of logistics and digitalization. If it were not for Royal FloraHolland, we would be missing clear rules and structure, I think. It is a reliable party that sits between customer and grower. That gives a lot of peace of mind."

For more information:
Royal FloraHolland

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