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Kicking back and switching off in his retirement is not for Peter Klapwijk. Horticulture is his passion. He loves it. Klapwijk calls himself a people person – an attentive observer, listener, creative thinker and strategist. “I look, think and feel along with an organization, the market developments affecting it, as well as innovations and the cultivation processes,” he says. Peter Klapwijk carries with him a wealth of experience and has seen and contributed to new techniques and crops. So, how does he look back on his 45 years in the field? 

The first question comes from Mariska Dreschler, Director of Horticulture at RAI Exhibition Center. "Will we still have horticulture in the Netherlands in years' time?"

Peter Klapwijk: “Yes, there will still be horticulture in the Netherlands. It will be smaller than it is now. Horticulture is growing worldwide. Due to increasing technology, the opportunities are growing. Foreign governments are increasingly recognizing the benefits of horticulture being close at hand.”

“We have become so big here in the Netherlands simply because there was space, but that is not a birthright. That might sound a bit negative about the Netherlands, but I certainly don't mean it that way. In the Netherlands, we have a unique level of knowledge, training, education and research. There are still many opportunities there in the future. These opportunities have an idealistic side, but certainly also a business aspect.”


You have been involved in greenhouse horticulture for 45 years of growing, developing, doing business and advising, and you are still active as a crop consultant. What do you see as the most common challenge facing growers?

Fotograaf: Robine Hillen

Fotograaf: Robine Hillen

PK: “That is a classic, namely: measuring is knowing. It is essential for companies to have good data and to properly measure what is happening in their greenhouses. 

I have been hired in my career to correct cultivation in various companies. For every major technical job, I first recommend installing a solid dashboard. This way you can visualize changes and make decisions based on them. Fortunately, more and more means are available to measure properly. It is about measuring and then analyzing the results, and then taking action.”


Is that still the case today, now that more and more growers are working with sensors?

PK: “Yes. It is not yet something every grower intuitively does. Sometimes there is resistance to getting started. Why? Well, it's difficult. It takes time. And growers are often already very busy. 

If an entrepreneur sees the operation and usefulness of a good dashboard, he is immediately convinced, but they must first experience it themselves. Of course, 'green fingers' are also worth a lot. You must be able to combine your green fingers with substantiating decisions based on data. To measure is to know, that remains the common thread in my career.”


Producing carbon-neutral healthy food is an important goal for you and you’ve said you want to inspire people and companies and take up the challenge together. What do you think it takes to achieve this?

PK: “First of all, cooperation is essential, because it is clear that a lot is needed to be able to produce carbon-neutral healthy food. Secondly, awareness of the urgency is necessary to make real progress. This awareness must also penetrate the retail market. Producing sustainable food can be more expensive, so it is important to make consumers aware of its benefits. People need to see that it is not only better for themselves, but also for the world.”

“In the Western world, we spend about 10% of our budget on food, which is significant. If we make sustainably produced products more visible, people will probably be willing to consume a little less and make more conscious choices. It is important to communicate the story of sustainable food clearly and comprehensibly to the general public. This can be done through the sector, by jointly developing concepts and conducting pilots. The whole story has to be right, not only in the field of energy, but also in terms of labor, health and product quality. It should be a joint effort involving several parties. The business community cannot do everything alone, the government also plays a role. Cooperation between both parties can lead to practical solutions.


What is the greenhouse horticulture sector already doing to achieve this?

PK: “Initiatives and working groups in the industry are already there, but it is time to take concrete steps and actually implement sustainability in daily life. It takes time to realize behavioral change. Telling a good story and showing concrete examples can help with this.”

“As you can see, I can talk for hours on this topic. There are many opportunities to stimulate the pursuit of carbon-neutral healthy food. A change in mindset is needed, with sustainability becoming an integral part of our daily activities. It is a matter of working together, raising awareness and gradually adjusting behavior. With the right efforts, we can have a positive impact on the climate and realize a sustainable future.”


Greenhouse horticulture entrepreneurs are switching en masse to LED lighting. Tomatoes, cucumbers, gerberas, chrysanthemums, herbs, strawberries, pot and bedding plants, they all grow under LED. This involves cultivation challenges. How do you experience this massive switch?

PK: “Positive. I'm always more into playing football forward than playing football backwards. It brings challenges, but I believe challenges also drive us to grow. The biggest problem is often that there is less evaporation, so that a plant absorbs less food and grows less. One of my biggest lessons from this is that evaporation is very important. We already knew that, of course, but it emphasizes this trend once again.”

“It is a matter of keeping a close eye on it and learning from the experiences. Sometimes you have to review the whole picture and look at the whole situation in its entirety. It is important not only to continue to work on a micro level, but also to think on an overarching level. It takes courage to dare to explore new approaches and circumstances and to let go of the experiences of the past. By experimenting, learning and working together, we can successfully complete the transition to LED lighting and have a positive impact on the growing industry.”


In 2006, you and a number of partners started the Improvement Center in Bleiswijk. This is still active, now under the name Delphy . In 2013, you sold your shares. What development or research do you look back on with pride?

PK: “A number of projects come to mind. The first is the project with which we were the first to produce 100kg of tomatoes per square meter in a semi-closed greenhouse. I am still very proud of that. Secondly, of course, the development of Next Generation Growing (HNT). You can't do that anywhere else. I also look back with pleasure and pride on the collaboration with various partners, such as Koppert Biological Systems. I got a lot of inspiration from that.”

“It was a great time, but at some point I felt the need to do something different. The Improvement Center grew, so I was more concerned with management than doing business. I wanted to discover, develop and do business again. That's why I continued for myself, but I still look back on a fantastic period. And even now I still watch Delphy with interest.”


Finally, the next candidate for 'In conversation with' is Rob Baan, owner of Koppert Cress. What question do you want to ask him?

PK: “What do you think are the most important points where Dutch horticulture needs to innovate? Where can we still make gains?”

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