In the coming decades, we need to grow much more food on a much smaller area. Together, Dutch companies can offer large-scale, custom solutions, so we’ll all benefit from DGD’s efforts.
The Dutch association AVAG, located in the village of Poeldijk in the Westland region, represents its members and supports their interests. Its mission is to help the Dutch horticultural technology sector maintain its leading global position. Ninety percent of the high-tech greenhouses worldwide come from the Netherlands.
The association signed an agreement with Dutch Greenhouse Delta (DGD) in June 2018. “We have the same goal,” explains Chairman Maters. “The greenhouse technology business is undergoing enormous growth. Because of this, there are great international opportunities for our sector, but we can’t do it alone.”
Large and innovative
The companies affiliated with AVAG deliver custom solutions for all climates, markets, and crops. “Our members do business with more than a hundred countries worldwide,” says Maters, who is also connected to the Dutch horticultural networks, such as Greenports, knowledge institutes and governmental departments.
AVAG was founded in 1963 and now boasts seventy members – most of the companies in the Dutch horticulture technology sector. “All of the companies that matter, the large and the innovative ones, have joined us,” says Maters. These range from greenhouse builders to companies that specialize in greenhouse climate control, energy provision, crop protection, logistics, knowledge sharing, and urban farming.
The AVAG members receive support in the areas of quality, innovation, and internationalization. The association works closely with government bodies, embassies, and knowledge institutes, such as the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) and Wageningen University & Research.
AVAG is also the initiator of the HortiQ Certificate, an independent quality system for greenhouse builders, installers, and other suppliers. “In this way, quality becomes verifiable,” explains Maters.
Each year, four to five additional AVAG members acquire certification, meaning their HortiQ-certified greenhouse or installation meets the criteria defined by greenhouse builders, installers, knowledge institutes, and insurers. This certification is verified by the internationally recognized, independent certification institute KIWA.
Digitalization and greenhouse construction
AVAG is also the initiator of Hortivation, a foundation that focuses on technical innovations and knowledge management in the greenhouse design and construction industry. This foundation aims make strategic innovations available to the sector and to collaborate with the various companies and knowledge institutes.
Software packages are being built by TNO and Wageningen University & Research, which can calculate the type of greenhouse needed in a particular climate. “It can take weather conditions or geological circumstances into account, such as storms and earthquakes,” says Maters. Digitization and automation in horticulture, also called ‘e-grow’, are essential tools for the optimal production of high-quality vegetables, flowers, and plants.
Other software calculates the number of vegetables that can be produced with specific investments. “Depending on a country’s climate and labor costs, a more or less high-tech greenhouse can be built.”
The association also organizes masterclasses and seminars. Recently, for example, thirty entrepreneurs took part in a five-day masterclass titled ‘Feeding Megacities’, which included lectures and discussions. “It’s important to stay up to date on what’s happening in the world and on the threats and opportunities,” says the AVAG chairman.
It became clear from the masterclass that the scale and complexity of horticultural projects continues to increase worldwide. “In 2030, more than five billion people will live in cities, and in 2050 no less than 10 billion people need to be fed. We obviously need to grow more food on a smaller area.” One potential solution is vertical farming, whereby crops are cultivated in vertically stacked layers in a controlled and automated environment. This saves space and energy by optimizing the use of water and other resources.
“Since Dutch suppliers of greenhouse technology are capable of providing innovative solutions, healthy and safe food can be produced anywhere,” Maters says. It is becoming increasingly popular to produce food close to the customers. This way, countries are less dependent on imports and save on logistics costs. It also complies with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, particularly with regard to the conservation of water, fossil fuels, and fertilizers.
“It’s important to pay close attention to these new challenges,” says Maters. “We are therefore pleased that some of our members founded DGD. They are frontrunners, turnkey greenhouse builders. We are happy a few companies took the lead.”
When asked about the overlap between the activities carried out by DGD and AVAG, Maters explained: “DGD is able to invest more energy and money into these efforts. The foundation can focus on developing the NL label for the horticultural sector. We need more recognizability, which is something we’ll all benefit from. DGD can also formulate an answer to large-scale projects faster and set up large collaborations.”
The Dutch horticultural cluster has a long tradition of close collaboration, dating back more than a century. So why do we need another cooperation? “Because the situation has changed,” clarifies Maters. These days, seventy percent of the revenue generated by AVAG members comes from projects outside the Netherlands. Ten years ago, this was only thirty percent.
“We therefore need to join forces and form coalitions. We need to learn to collaborate on large projects. We have to set our individual interests as separate companies aside, improve our marketing, and offer the right solutions.”
“We therefore need to join forces and form coalitions. We need to learn to collaborate on large projects