Dutch growers produce premium fresh produce for over 100 million people, six times the Dutch population.
The demand for vast quantities of fresh, high-quality produce is on the rise. But growing fruits and vegetables in greenhouses isn’t as easy as some think. However, with the right technology, the best experts, and the ability to cooperate, a lot is possible – like integrating food production into cities and communities.
“It’s widely known that the world population is growing and that more people are expected to live in cities,” says General Manager of Priva, Maren Schoormans. “But people don’t stop to consider that those people need to eat as well. You can’t live off rice and grains alone; you need fresh fruits and vegetables, too. And the closer consumers are to their food, the fresher that food will be.”
“Food needs to be tasty, healthy, and safe,” he continues. “This is considered normal in a country like the Netherlands. But in China, for example, that’s not always the case.” He mentions the excessive use of pesticides and the fact that food poisoning is a common problem. “We want people to trust their locally produced food again. Our technology and expertise can contribute to this.’’ He explains that Dutch growers produce premium fresh produce for over 100 million people, six times the Dutch population.
Priva, a family business in the Westland region with offices and training centers on every continent, delivers the technology needed to grow good food anywhere in the world. The company creates hardware and software, as well as services for managing all greenhouse process and climate control in buildings.
“Automated greenhouse controls were invented in the Netherlands. Our founder was a pioneer back in the day. Today, Priva and our two competitors (who are located 10 miles from each other) automate a large majority of the world’s glasshouses. Sustainability is the key to our high-tech solutions. Our clients want to keep their water and energy consumption to a minimum when regulating temperature, energy, light, and humidity.”
Schoormans has been passionate about horticulture since his first high school job: planting and harvesting vegetables in the field and in greenhouses during school vacations. In fact, he became so fascinated that he decided to study applied horticultural sciences.
The world needs more food and better food. At the same time, our climate is becoming increasingly unstable, which makes open-air cultivation more difficult and creates a tremendous demand for greenhouses. However, there are some pitfalls to keep in mind, Schoormans warns.
“Some people think that if you build a greenhouse, you’ll earn money,” he says. “But a greenhouse and all of its parts is like an orchestra, with the greenhouse manager serving as the conductor. Growing crops, especially year-round, is a craft.’’ These days, the right technology is a key success factor, he explains. Thanks to the equipment and software, growers can now manage up to 20 hectares of high-performance greenhouses. The largest greenhouse operations are a big as 100 hectares, and they will continue to grow.
Schoormans also stresses that different situations call for different solutions. “You can’t apply the same greenhouse solution everywhere in the world. You need the right greenhouse and the right technology in the right place.”
By now, there isn’t a climate zone in the world in which the Dutch haven’t built a greenhouse. “At the Arctic Circle, greenhouses need to be heated and artificially lit; in the desert, you need to cool things down and desalinate the water. At the equator, the rainy season makes growing outdoors difficult. In Nigeria, for example, it rains four months a year, and you can’t grow anything during that time. But the ever-increasing population still needs to eat.”
Schoormans also stresses the importance of a functioning logistics chain. “In some developing countries, up to half of the fruit and vegetables harvested are lost before they reach the consumer. To make sure this doesn’t happen, you need to work with companies with the right reputation and experience.” Something else that’s often overlooked, he explains, is the buying preferences of local consumers.
Regarding local interests, Schoormans believes that companies shouldn’t insist on doing everything alone. In the Netherlands, every piece of the puzzle can be manufactured, but local companies can often produce some of the equipment they need, like irrigation pipes or greenhouse posts. “This is more sustainable and essential to the scalability of the greenhouse construction sector. We expect global demand to exceed the capacity of builders.”
In some developing countries, up to half of the fruit and vegetables harvested are lost before they reach the consumer. To make sure this doesn’t happen, you need to work with companies with the right reputation and experience.
Priva was the project organizer for the recent Green Dragon Lake District project, a massive plan for an entirely new agglomeration outside Beijing. Here, greenhouses are integrated in the city by connecting the water and energy supplies to residential and other buildings. “This is a smart way to do a lot with minimal resources, which has many environmental benefits,” Schoormans says enthusiastically.
The Netherlands is a textbook example of this approach to building cities. To illustrate, he refers to the pipe network that carbon dioxide supplier OCAP installed last year, which supplies fifty greenhouse horticulturalists in the Westland region with carbon dioxide from factories for their plants. Another exciting example is the Hoogeland district in the town of Naaldwijk, which is connected to greenhouses to exchange energy.
Several parties collaborated on the Green Dragon Lake District project, including King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands. While this was certainly an interesting project for Priva, Schoormans, who is also a board member at the Dutch Greenhouse Delta (DGD), says: “We can’t do a dozen large-scale projects like these, as they keep getting bigger and more complex.”
“Our customers don’t ask us to build just a handful of greenhouses anymore; they want us to feed millions of people and they’re looking for one party that can do it all. Together with the other DGD members, we have an answer. Now, companies that once chased success alone are going to do it together.”
He adds: “We are proud to be world champions in greenhouse production. The Netherlands is also a leading country in the field of water technology, infrastructure, and smart cities. The combination makes the difference.”