Hein van der Sande is CEO of Certhon. A family business located in the Dutch village of Poeldijk. They design and build modern greenhouses and indoor growing facilities.
More and more countries need to produce high-quality food to feed their population. Population increases also in places with extreme climates. To help them face this challenge, greenhouse horticulture companies in the Netherlands have joined forces in the Dutch Greenhouse Delta.
On a Wednesday morning at the beginning of last year, Hein van der Sande, CEO of Certhon took a spin class with Sjaak van der Tak, Mayor of Westland at the time, and Wouter Kuiper, CEO of Kubo. As they worked up some sweat, they discussed how to brand the Dutch greenhouse sector and promote it around the world.
“We agreed that the Dutch Horticulture industry is too modest when it comes to our performance, expertise and our heritage, and not enough is done to show the world about what we can offer” recalls Van der Sande. “Afterwards, over coffee and sandwiches, we decided we should do something about it.”
Soon thereafter the Dutch Greenhouse Delta (DGD) was born, a platform to promote the Dutch horticulture sector worldwide. Van der Sande, now the organisation’s chairman, is enthusiastic. “The Netherlands has a long history of greenhouse growing. With demand on the rise, it’s clear that there are plenty of opportunities for us worldwide”.
Members can use the platform to show the world that the Netherlands is the place to be for growing top quality food and flowers in the most efficient way. “If you want to invest in the greenhouse horticultural industry, or if you represent a country that wants to grow high-quality vegetables, hop on a plane to Amsterdam. Then take a taxi to the Westland region, where you’ll find many excellent greenhouse companies and related services,” Van der Sande adds. “Our sector is not limited to the Westland area, but it’s here where you can find many different companies and institutions. At the end of the day, this is where it all began one and a half century ago.
Certhon, a family business located in the Dutch village of Poeldijk, designs and builds modern greenhouses. The company also offers growth chambers and technical systems, such as irrigation and water treatment, electrical installations and lighting, heating and cooling, and the necessary support. “We offer total solutions and carry out entire projects,” explains Van der Sande. “Of course, it’s an advantage having everything under one roof.”
The demand for greenhouse project technical systems and services has gone up. Scale and complexity are increasing. “You can’t do everything on your own anymore,” says Certhon’s CEO. “So it’s time to join forces to meet the demands of tomorrow.”
According to Van der Sande, the global demand for locally-grown, safe and sustainable food is on the rise. Countries want to be self-sufficient in feeding their growing populations, who often live in megacities. The Netherlands has a maritime climate, which is very favourable for growing vegetables and flowers outdoors. Unfortunately, this is not the case in many other places in the world.
“Often, it’s either too cold or too hot, or there’s too little or too much water,” says Van der Sande. “Climate change is making this worse; we are seeing more and more extremes. Nevertheless, people still want to grow food in deserts and countries with harsh winter climates. High-tech greenhouses can help them face these challenges in those places”.
If necessary, Certhon can create climate-controlled greenhouses that do not require daylight and are completely sealed off from the outside. The Certhon Innovation Centre researches ways to optimize the growing process in the absence of daylight. The centre next to Certhon’s office building, which was opened earlier this year, is managed in collaboration with Wageningen University & Research and the companies Philips, Rijk Zwaan, Delphy and Koppert Biological Systems.
Experiments are being conducted to determine the ideal circumstances for different plants. “What is the optimum amount of light, the optimal intervals, and which wavelengths does the crop need? We want to know the ideal conditions that help plants generate the highest yields while creating a profitable system.” Research is also being carried out to determine the yield and the quality of different vegetable and flower species grown without daylight.
Certhon is now working on a four-hectare greenhouse project in Japan for tomato production. Each region of the world has its own unique set of climate conditions, explains Van der Sande. “In Japan, there is a high risk of earthquakes, but the country wants to be more self-sufficient as well. So these greenhouses needed to be as earthquake-resistant as possible. We, therefore, used plastic instead of glass.”
In The United Arab Emirates, temperatures can be extreme and it hardly ever rains, the demand for locally produced food is on the rise to provide a better alternative to costly and unsustainable imports. The country’s Minister of State for Future Food Security recently visited the Certhon Innovation Centre to learn more about the sustainable technologies the Dutch greenhouse sector can offer to this growing desert nation. Certhon, together with Priva is currently building greenhouses in the UAE as part of a project called Pure Harvest, which will grow a number of different vegetables.
According to the CEO, customers are increasingly demanding high-quality and sustainably grown foods. “The consumers insist on healthy, clean vegetables. The good thing about growing plants in greenhouses is that pests and diseases can be kept under control without the use of chemical pesticides and we can use water in the most efficient way possible.”
So far, twelve companies have joined the Dutch Greenhouse Delta and Van der Sande hopes more will follow soon. “Any company that has a connection to the Dutch greenhouse horticultural industry can join,” he emphasizes, “not just greenhouse builders and horticultural technology providers, but also seed breeders, vegetable traders or growers”.
In the past, growers and suppliers collaborated when it came to fundamental research but it was unusual for competitors in this sector to cooperate in selling products and solutions”. Today and in the future, we will be forced to seize opportunities together” Van der Sande thinks. “This is also important for the Dutch economy. We need to strengthen our position against competition from abroad. In the end, we share the same goals”.