The Dutch greenhouse horticulture sector has already taken many steps in recent years in the field of sustainability and optimization of production. Nowhere in the world do so many kilograms of tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and cucumbers come from a square meter, with relatively little use of energy, pesticides and water per kilogram of product. While livestock farming has come under a social magnifying glass in recent years when it comes to animal welfare, nitrogen emissions and biodiversity, the greenhouse vegetable sector has remained under the social radar.
This has changed due to the corona and partly related energy crisis. The public is now aware that greenhouse horticulture is very dependent on fossil energy – natural gas – and the deployment of cheap labor from abroad. About 200,000 workers are used every year. During the corona crisis, the hard lesson was that these employees are not automatically available and are often poorly housed by our standards.
In the sector report ‘Greenhouse vegetables: from efficiency to value’ ABN Amro foresees the need to accelerate investment in sustainable energy sources, such as geothermal energy, and robotization to reduce dependence on ‘old-fashioned’ resources. However, this does have a consequence: investments cannot be made at the current price level. Price increases are therefore on the horizon.
But how do you keep it running? After all, more expensive products can lead to a contraction of the market.
“Companies can respond to new consumer needs by focusing on qualitative product features, such as taste and nutrients,” says Jan de Ruyter, Sector Banker Agricultural at ABN AMRO. In the report, the bank writes that it is “conceivable that in the future the sustainability of products will no longer be weighed in relation to a kilo of product. It is cleaner to weigh sustainability in relation to the contribution of the product to a healthy environment.” diet, the nutrients present.”
The growing need for plant-based food will help many greenhouse growers in the coming years, the bank expects. What will help in this is that supermarkets are expected to start selling more sustainable products and offer transparency and accountability to consumers. Dutch greenhouse vegetable products – whether or not with a quality mark such as PlanetProof – can positively distinguish themselves from the often anonymous products from different countries that are on the shelves.
De Ruyter sees a bright spot in the VAT reduction on vegetables from the coalition agreement. It will “hopefully ensure that these price increases are not too high for consumers”.
Nevertheless, the banker believes that the sector cannot afford to invest in sustainability on its own. De Ruyter therefore finds it important that the government thinks along and supports greenhouse horticulturists.
In the short term, ABN Amro expects that 1 in 10 greenhouse horticulture companies will run into financial difficulties as a result of the current high gas prices. If energy prices do not return to pre-corona levels after 2023, that fate will hit even more greenhouse horticulture companies, according to the bank.
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‘Greenhouse vegetables will become more expensive even without gas’ – ABN AMRO: greenhouse horticulture discovered as a fossil industry – Foodlog