Greenhouse Canada

Sustainable horticulture in the Netherlands

November 12, 2010  By Sally Ferguson

Nov. 12, 2010, Amsterdam – In six program-packed days, a team of 10
North American experts toured the Netherlands to explore technologies
and techniques related to sustainable horticulture as part of the
Sustainability Initiative.

Nov. 12, 2010, Amsterdam – In six program-packed days, a team of 10 North American experts toured the Netherlands to explore technologies and techniques related to sustainable horticulture as part of the Sustainability Initiative.

The Oct. 24-29 tour featured behind the scenes looks at state-of-the-art closed greenhouses and research labs, plus followed advancements in seed hybridization, heating and cooling, LED lighting technology, hydroponics, biological control, robotics and more. The group also participated in a mini-forum with Dutch horticultural professionals sponsored by the newly-created Dutch Ministry of Economics, Agriculture and Innovation.


The pilot project, hosted by the Office of the Dutch Agricultural Counselor in Washington, D.C., was structured to examine the role of sustainability innovation in the changing business of horticulture through the lens of social media. Inviting participants from the diverse worlds of applied research, finance, business, policy and journalism, the program was designed to stimulate discussion and offer a forum for public participation and exchange through blogs, videos and forums on the Sustainability Initiative’s website,

In its first two weeks the Web site has already had more than 2,100 visitors and more than 11,000 page views. The Initiative’s Facebook page has also been active.  In addition to the blogs, there are open public forums on the website. Visitors who sign in may comment on blogs and participate fully in the forums.

“The Dutch, for as long as they’ve been in the greenhouse industry, have been innovative,” said Chris Beytes, editor and publisher of GrowerTalks & Acres Online, leading a team presentation at the end of the week. “They are not afraid of innovation. We saw some amazing, jaw-dropping technology this week. Also, we saw an impressive amount of unity among all the players in the sector.”

Visits ranged from university research facilities such as Wageningen UR in Bleiswijk to private companies such Enza Zaden seed hybridizers and producers in Enkhuizen to the Port Authority of Rotterdam. The tour participants remarked on the level of co-operation and communication, even among competitors, that seems to prevail in many research efforts in the Netherlands.

“We have growers [in North America] who are extremely innovative,” said Kelli Rodda, managing editor of GM Pro and NM Pro magazines, “But they’re not necessarily sharing it. They’re focused on getting a job done.”

As a group, the team gave the Netherlands industry high marks for technology, innovation, willingness to change, readiness to explore new ideas, and communication on the professional and technical levels. Dr. Gene Giacomelli, director of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center (CEAC) at the University of Arizona, praised the Dutch sector for “having the capability to turn an idea into a reality, almost overnight…”

In some regards, however, several group members observed that the Dutch sector’s concentration on increasing efficiency might deflect focus from the additional need for pull-through consumer marketing.  While the level of inter-professional communications is high, programs to promote the significance of sustainability to end consumers seem to be weak or non-existent.

“The missing link here is ‘how do you sell sustainability’ to the consumer,” observed Dr. Jim Brandle, CEO of the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre in Ontario. “You have to share your achievements. If people don’t know the sustainability story they won’t value it. You have to sell a tomato and a market.”

Brandle went on to say that this approach contributed to the commoditizing of products that should instead have a high perceived value. He further pointed out that this oversight is not exclusive to the Dutch, but is shared by the industry in North America as well.

Among other themes that struck the group throughout the tour was the idea of greenhouses being generators, rather than consumers of electrical power. Thanks to the plentiful supply of natural gas from the North Sea, many advanced Dutch greenhouses use the technology of co-generation to generate power for the greenhouse in winter while selling power back to the grid in summer. It was pointed out that this type of option was made more difficult in many parts of North America by regulatory constraints, though it remains an attractive consideration here for the future.

“We’re planning to maintain the website as an active, open forum,” said Martin Olde Monnikhof, the Dutch agricultural counselor in Washington, and the originator of the pilot project. “We invite not only our participants, but people in the sector in Holland, the U.S. and elsewhere to share ideas, to comment on the site, and on Facebook, etc.”

A group photo in front of the Enza Zaden's first research greenhouse.

The Sustainability Initiative participants included:
• Chris Beytes, editor and publisher of GrowerTalks & Acres Online ( – third from left in photo.
• Dr. Jim Brandle, CEO of Vineland Research & Innovation Centre ( – seventh from right, and in back row, wearing glasses.
• Marco de Bruin, owner of Bushel Boy Farms ( – ninth from right, and in back row.
• Dr. Gene Giacomelli, University of Arizona, professor of Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering and director of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center ( – fourth from left.
• Dave Harrison, editor of Greenhouse Canada ( – fifth from right.
• Tom Karst, national editor of The Packer ( – third from right.
• Anjali Oberoi, director of investment banking and advisory, NewSeed Advisors ( – fifth from left.
• Martin Olde Monnikhof, Dutch Agricultural Counselor, Washington, DC ( ) – sixth from right.
• Kelli Rodda, managing editor GM Pro and NM Pro ( – front row, light-coloured jacket.
• Dr. Erik Runkle, associate professor of floriculture research, Michigan State University ( and member of the Floriculture Research Alliance ( – eighth from right, light-coloured shirt.

Also included in the team were advisor agricultural affairs Caroline Feitel, working from Washington, and consultant Sally Ferguson of Ferguson Caras LLC working from Danby, Vt.  On the trip were Senior Policy Advisor for North America Dr. Cindy van den Boom, and consultants Robin Massee of Massee Productions of Brooklyn, N.Y. and David Caras of Ferguson Caras LLC.

Participants in the trip were invited to continue blogging and participating in forums on This invitation extends to all members of the industry interested in sustainable horticulture. Anyone may sign up to participate in forums. Those wishing to blog should contact Caroline Feitel at the Dutch embassy in Washington,

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