As the person ultimately responsible for a cooperative of 72 growers with a combined area of more than 1,100 hectares, you can without a doubt call Jelte van Kammen a 'prestigious figure in greenhouse horticulture'. Although he prefers to see himself as a booster, go-getter and connector. Just like Harvest House, by the way. Real go-getters, that's what characterizes Harvest House's growers. We are curious about Jelte's view on a number of interesting issues in greenhouse horticulture. Follow along to learn more in our latest interview with him.
The first question comes from Puck van Holsteijn (WHC), with whom we talked last time: “I would really like to meet more growers in WHC to learn from and with each other. What should we as WHC organize to get more growers in the clubhouse?”
Jelte: “A difficult question, I think. The answer is not simple. I fully understand that Puck would also like to have the source, the growers, in the WHC. But I think growers don't always see the need for that. Especially because they know how to find suppliers themselves. That line is short. Grower and supplier often interact one-on-one. And when you talk about sharing knowledge and getting inspired, the range of events and meetings is incredibly large. Growers simply don't always have time for that.”
“So it's not so much the WHC's offer, but the growers' priorities. They are busy and do not feel the need, because they already find their own way in, for example, the high-tech greenhouse horticulture cluster. We saw that at the GreenTech expo last month. The growers who visited the fair quickly moved over the exhibition floor to shake hands and then went home. They do collect information about new innovations from their suppliers. I also think that we should see this as a compliment to our high-tech greenhouse horticulture cluster, that the parties know how to find each other.”
Harvest House's vision is to give everyone access to healthy, nutritious and delicious food. Greenhouse horticulture plays a key role in this, says Harvest House. How do you think the greenhouse horticulture sector is currently implementing this?
Jelte: “In any case, I see a development that the high-tech greenhouse industry has been able to find each other better in the last two to three years. There has really been an improvement and acceleration in the sustainable production of food. You see projects emerging all over the world where the expertise and craftsmanship of the entire sector come together.”
“In addition, there are two major challenges in the global sustainable food supply: CO2 emissions and synthetic crop protection. I also see improvement and innovation opportunities here. There are all kinds of innovations going on. If we manage to find the right track there, things will go fast. I have complete confidence that we will find that trail together. There is so much knowledge in the entire industry, if we manage to bundle it and stop holding the cards to the chest, then we are well on our way to fulfilling that key role with the greenhouse horticulture sector.”
“It is essential that we continue to put knowledge into practice. Because it would be a great shame if we have the solution for sustainable food supply in our hands in a small lab and only put it into practice in five to ten years.”
Harvest House is currently growing faster outside our borders than in the Netherlands. In an earlier interview you said that Harvest House wants to actively recruit more growers in order to achieve faster growth. How do you see the future division of the Netherlands and abroad?
Jelte: “I see more and more Harvest House growers looking abroad to expand. Think of Tunisia, Morocco, France, Portugal and even Sweden recently. That is sometimes quite complex, because we sometimes underestimate how good the Dutch infrastructure is. You will find out when you are abroad. On the other hand, growers in the Netherlands are often restricted. Unfortunately, the laws and regulations do not always encourage entrepreneurs to spread their wings.”
“I recently heard about an initiative by Greenports Netherlands to map all greenhouse horticulture clusters in the Netherlands and test their future-proofness. Where is potential? Where should steps be taken? Which clusters can be merged? But also: which clusters will no longer exist in ten years' time? A good and smart initiative, I think. From here, we can sketch a realistic picture of the potential and future of greenhouse horticulture in the Netherlands.”
“In short, Harvest House will certainly remain active in the Netherlands, but I don't see a huge amount of room to expand. It is mainly about renewing and modernizing existing companies. Meanwhile, the growth of new locations abroad will certainly continue.”
As a leading fruit vegetable specialist in Europe, Harvest House is more than just a sales organization, but also a knowledge partner for both growers and retailers. You are close enough to retail to closely follow trends and developments. Which retail trend do you think will be decisive for fruit and vegetable growers in the coming years?
Jelte: “I think there are two trends; the first being sustainability. Retailers and consumers are placing more and more demands on the product. How is it grown, how much energy is involved, what about crop protection products, packaging, labor, etc. The second trend is that the entire chain is increasingly aware that we need to create more stable logistics chains together. You can no longer dance from chair to chair with 80 suppliers. What you think you can earn with retail on purchasing, you lose with logistics. That can be done differently. But that is typically something you do not achieve alone. You create a stable logistics chain together. Artificial intelligence (AI) plays a major role in this. If we can better predict the supply and demand, you can organize the chain better and more efficiently.
Climate neutral cultivation in 2040. That is the aim of Greenhouse Horticulture in the Netherlands. Geothermal sources, sustainable electricity from the national power grid, sustainable heat from biomass and industry must replace natural gas in 2040. What do you think is needed to achieve that?
Jelte: “Are we going to make it, is also the question that we as FVO (Federation of Fruit Vegetable Organizations) ask ourselves and what we are researching. We run this organization together with the directors of four other growers' associations. Is the pace of sustainability high enough, what are the possibilities, what technology do we need? We will visualize that together. A number of points of interest emerged. One of them is hydrogen. That has a lot of potential. Gasunie is working on building a ring in the Netherlands as infrastructure for hydrogen. The question is how do we get to that network. Good initiatives have already been devised for this. If we tackle this together in a smart way, I see great potential for hydrogen as a replacement for natural gas.”
Finally, the next candidate for 'In conversation with' is Mariska Dreschler, director of horticulture RAI Amsterdam (GreenTech). What question do you want to ask her?
Jelte: “ Which technologies do you see developing that will greatly help the sustainability agenda of horticulture?”