DGD is like a portal that different parties can turn to. With the increased demand for large-scale controlled environment agriculture solutions, our industry needs to provide one clear solution and a platform where you can find this.
Edward Verbakel is Managing Director of VB, which plays a leading role in the horticulture, construction, civil engineering, and energy infrastructure sectors.
“The Dutch horticulture sector still has a leading position in the world. If we want to maintain that, we need to respond to the changing situation,” says Edward Verbakel. Because of climate change and the growing global population, the demand for food is rising, he explains.
“The new generation of project applications are much larger. If they are larger than what we normally do in an entire year, we need to join forces. Otherwise, we’ll let relevant projects pass, and other parties will take the job.” This is about to happen now.
VB’s general manager thinks the Dutch Greenhouse Delta (DGD) is an excellent tool to help the sector respond to this growing demand. “Think of it as a portal that different parties can turn to.” At the moment, foreign governments, such as China, usually reach out to the Dutch authorities. Soon, authorities will be able to contact the DGD instead.
“The platform is autonomous and nobody feels bypassed. Of course, it’s easier for our clients to work with one party instead of many different small parties. Being able to offer a total project puts us a step ahead of the competition. Plus, it makes it easier for us to find the right parties to cooperate with on projects.”
In some cases, a massive project needs to be finished very quickly, Verbakel explains, using the Russian market as an example. “Many of the greenhouses span a huge surface area there and can only be built outside the long and severe winter season. This calls for a big team working in several shifts.”
VB is located in the village of De Lier in the Westland region, where most of the Dutch horticulture companies are situated. It specializes in the design and construction of complete greenhouse and civil engineering projects, glass-house construction, heating, and cooling systems, energy-saving systems, turn-key greenhouse projects, and project development.
“We focus on climate,” Verbakel explains. “We determine the ideal circumstances for plants in greenhouses. Even if the outside climate is not ideal for growing vegetables, our solutions ensure that people can eat safe and healthy food year-round.”
Verbakel’s father and uncle founded VB in 1966. When he was seventeen, he was held back a year in school and wasn’t allowed to join his parents on vacation. Instead, he had to spend the summer building greenhouses. “I quite liked the work and started to become interested in horticulture.” He continued to work in greenhouses as a summer job while he studied business administration at Erasmus University Rotterdam. After graduating, he started to work at the VB office.
VB is currently working on some interesting projects in Mexico and the United States. “In the north of the U.S. it’s cold in winter and the days are short. This means we need to supplement the warmth and light,” he clarifies. “In Mexico and the south of the U.S. it’s too hot in summer and the high air humidity isn’t always ideal for plants either.” VB has arranged cooling and dehumidifying solutions to promote the growth of bell peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers in the glass and poly greenhouses there.
Recently, VB also built new state-of-the-art greenhouses with a surface area of 10,000 m2 for Dümmen Orange in Rheinberg, Germany. These glass greenhouses are divided into a quarantined part and an ‘elite’ nursery area, which is like a laboratory. This ensures that the hygiene standards are met to provide a backup of valuable plant material.
Verbakel points out that consumers are making more and more demands. “They want seasonal projects year-round: strawberries in October and grapes in January. The supermarkets want to facilitate that.” This is a global trend, especially in Asia because of rapid urbanization.
While the quality needs to be high, competitive prices are important as well. “This is a volume and low-cost driven market. When a project is large, the vegetables and fruits can be grown against lower costs because the overhead costs are more or less the same compared to a smaller sized project.”
In the past, there have been other efforts to collaborate in the Dutch horticulture sector, but those initiatives were too broad and too fragmented, Verbakel believes. “We are currently focusing on sustainable solutions in controlled environment agriculture and not on other sectors. We have a clear, and ambitious group now that is ready to go.”
To start, the DGD members will work on a hypothetical project. “We’ll think of a fictional example of a project that is too large for one party and then go through the steps we’d need to take in practice. We can then start with the real work. Probably soon.”
Verbakel also believes that DGD will be a useful platform for promoting Dutch products in the sector. “If the quality of the ‘Label NL’ or the ‘Made in Holland’ technology becomes even more widely known, our products will be chosen more often,” he explains.
“We haven’t done enough to promote ourselves, despite being the best at growth solutions. It’s time to be vocal about our skills, instead of shying away from them. We should be proud of everything we’ve done, share this with the world, and make it clear that we can reproduce this on a larger scale.”
Another reason VB has joined DGD is to prove how exciting and challenging the horticulture sector is. “Like many other companies, we’re continuously looking for the right people to join our team, especially highly skilled technical candidates,” Verbakel says. Project leaders, technical drafters, engineers, designers, and qualified welders are all needed, both in the Netherlands and for temporary projects abroad.
“Very few suitable candidates are available. We therefore want to provide inspiring examples to stimulate employees to work in the sector.” He also hopes to spark an interest in young people who still have to pick a study direction. “People with enthusiasm and an interest in working in this sector shouldn’t hesitate to contact VB,” he concludes.