Benjamin Devillard, General Manager Hoogendoorn Asia:
The horticultural sector in China is on the rise; the country is increasingly focusing on its own food supply. This brings with it the necessary challenges, among others in the field of energy and water consumption, labor, and knowledge. Hoogendoorn Asia tries to support Chinese market gardeners in various areas, together with a partner such as DGD. “Sustainability also means entering into partnerships with parties who have the same values and are pursuing the same dream.”
In China, there is a growing demand for fresh, high-quality and safe food. According to Benjamin Devillard, this has everything to do with the growing middle class in China. “This group of Chinese wants a good quality of life and can also afford things. Consumers then logically also make higher demands on their food,” says the General Manager of Hoogendoorn Asia. Originally an IT engineer, he has worked in numerous industrial sectors for more than fifteen years.
Devillard also emphasizes that the Chinese government considers it crucial to ensure food security and become more self-sufficient in terms of food needs. “This is in fact necessary to ensure social stability in the country. And the covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine have reinforced the need to become self-sufficient.”
The General Manager sees an increasing focus on indoor farming in China. “Land is scarce in China and with indoor farming, it can be used optimally. And the war in Ukraine, among other things, makes it clear that in order to maintain the food supply in China, more will have to be done on indoor farming.
Chinese horticulture has to deal with several challenges. For example, the Chinese government is strongly committed to sustainability, and energy and water consumption must be substantially reduced in the coming decade. Optimization of the food chain is also necessary. “The government wants to make sure there are no more bottlenecks in the chain. It has to run streamlined, from seed to the consumer’s plate.”
Rising labor costs are another concern. This, according to Devillard, requires adapted software and technologies. “Only in this way can companies continue to work efficiently and increase returns. As Hoogendoorn, we are responding to this with Work-IT, our management information system that helps growers to manage their labor efficiently, among other things. Using this system, employees can be assigned to the right tasks, it also offers maximum control in terms of labor deployment.”
In addition to labor costs, horticultural know-how is a point of concern: because China has only a short history of horticulture, the knowledge available locally is limited. While there is a huge need for it due to the growth of the sector, Devillard emphasizes. “As Hoogendoorn Asia, we find it important to also contribute to this knowledge development. For example, we are now working on the construction of the new flower company New green and Beijing Cuihui, we are also setting up an academy. Here, Chinese growers will be able to share knowledge to take their cultivation performance to a higher level. In short: we want to do more than just sell products, we really want to go the extra mile.”
Hoogendoorn Asia additionally supports Chinese horticulture entrepreneurs with technical solutions, to meet the outlined challenges. “IIVO, our next-level climate computer, fits perfectly into this picture. IIVO offers numerous smart technologies for covered cultivation and is equipped with software, which can be easily adapted to each situation and to specific requirements. IIVO is also equipped with customized software that contributes to optimal energy management. In addition, it is linked to the forecasts of Meteo Forecast. In this way, we help growers to use energy and water as efficiently as possible. Recently we implemented our IIVO solutions, including energy software, for example within the semi-closed greenhouse of the Honghua project.”
In addition, Hoogendoorn Asia supports entrepreneurs in gathering and analyzing data, so that they can get a good picture of what is happening in the greenhouse. “This platform, which is in line with Chinese legislation, offers entrepreneurs additional knowledge and more grip and control over the business activities. In that respect, it is an important step towards an Autonomous greenhouse.”
Hoogendoorn Asia has sustainability high on its agenda. For example, the company plants trees for every project completed and has a sustainability certificate in Europe. “But sustainability means more than just offering a ‘sustainable’ product or solution,” emphasizes Devillard. “It also means working with talented people and partnering with others who share the same values and the same dream. And in China, this is perhaps even more true than elsewhere. You can think of China as a big pie; after all, there is enormous potential there. As a company, you can choose to eat a large part of it alone and get sick. But you can also take a small piece and share it with the right parties. In that way, you can continue to grow together. That is what we as Hoogendoorn Asia are aiming for. And there are still plenty of opportunities: because of the great demand for high-quality food, it is obvious that horticulture in China will develop further in the coming years.”
Devillard sees, in the development of the Chinese horticultural sector, an important role for Dutch Greenhouse Delta. “DGD acts as a guide by bringing parties together and ensuring that projects develop in the right direction. And also by providing investors and local authorities with the right information and giving them a ‘global overview’, DGD makes a big difference.”