From the Editor: January 2011

December 29, 2010
Written by
Late last October, I was able to tour the Netherlands as part of the Sustainability Initiative project hosted by the Office of the Dutch Agricultural Counselor in Washington.

The goal was to explore technologies and techniques related to sustainable horticulture in the Netherlands. The six-day tour included visits to leading research labs and commercial greenhouse operations.

There is a website dedicated to the program at www.thesustainabilityinitiative.org.

The Dutch industry has long been a world leader in horticulture, and the tour helped me understand at least one of the factors needed to get to that level – close co-operation, even among competitors.

Here are just a couple of examples.

  • Plantum NL represents the Dutch agricultural and horticultural breeding and propagating industry at the government level, with a goal of creating international awareness and a common vision for the sector’s future. Plantum represents some 500 businesses in floriculture, horticulture and agriculture in discussions with government bodies, social organizations and other parties involved in agribusiness.
  • The Improvement Centre, located next door to the Wageningen UR facilities, includes 11 separate greenhouse research compartments of about 1,000 square metres each. Companies can work on their own, or with others, on projects, and the work at the time of our visit included harvesting robotics and LED vegetable crop lighting.
  • The Seed Valley Foundation represents breeders in the area between Enkhuizen and Alkmaar, which have enjoyed great success in plant breeding and seed technology for several decades. Established in 2008, the Foundation is working to educate young people about career opportunities in breeding. “There is a strong demand among companies for specialists at all levels,” says the Foundation. The breeders are working co-operatively to attract young specialists … perhaps to a competitor.
  • The MPS Certification program, which began in 1995 as an environmental project of the Westland flower auctions, is now in more than 50 countries. Growers get feedback
  • on how efficient they are in comparison to colleagues with similar crops; most say this improved productivity easily offsets the cost of registration. Many European retailers insist on MPS certification.

What’s the take-home message?

We’ve got to work together, and do so for the long haul.

Flowers Canada Growers, as an example, can help growers here work more co-operatively, pooling resources for the common good. And there are provincial greenhouse associations in many provinces that also play an important role. Perhaps it’s time to consider working under a single umbrella organization – growers of ornamentals and vegetables, and from all regions – to tackle common issues and lobby government on key matters, such as opening the grid for increased cogen investment.

There is strength in numbers, as the Dutch experience suggests. We need to work together. Co-operation, even among competitors, is essential to grow the industry.

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