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world horti center

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The World Horti Center was officially opened by Queen Máxima of the Netherlands in March 2018, although the building in the Dutch town of Naaldwijk had already been in use for several months. The added value of cross-pollination between education, business and research was already in evidence at the opening.

When you go inside, the first thing you see is an oasis of green and light stretching right up to the glass greenhouse roof. There’s a staircase on both sides, and students are sitting enjoying their break on various levels among the green. It’s the auditorium of the vocational post-secondary college MBO Westland, the centrepiece of the building. “This immediately demonstrates how we’ve combined the various functions in the building” says architect Anton Hanemaaijer of the horticultural consultancy firm AAB. “Education, business and research come together here.”

Reflection

It would be fair to describe the building as a challenging project. The first meetings between the three initiators were held in 2013. MBO Westland was looking for a larger faculty closer to the area’s horticultural businesses, the Dutch Greenhouse Demo Centre (Demokwekerij Westland), part of the agrarian research centre Proeftuin Zwaagdijk, was looking to expand and Greenport Food & Flower Xperience (GFFX), had been thinking of creating a platform for the primary sector. “Everyone was looking and that’s how we all came to sit down at the same table,” says project manager Maik Rodenrijs, who also works for AAB.

The municipality of Westland also supported the initiative. There was some Royal FloraHolland land lying fallow which was earmarked for the construction of the Greenport Horti Campus Westland. The World Horti Center would become part of it.

At the same time, AAB was asked to provide support in various areas of expertise such as project management, real estate, energy, technology and permits. Rodenrijs: “The aim was to set up a global knowledge and innovation centre that would serve as a meeting place and a platform – a place where education and business would meet, where knowledge would be shared, a place that would be a reflection of the greenhouse horticulture sector in the Netherlands.”

Different technologies

The building was to consist of three parts: Demokwekerij Westland on the left, MBO Westland on the right and a multi-use building (exhibition centre) in the middle, where businesses connected with the sector would be able to rent a stand to present themselves to a national and international audience.

The challenges were immediately obvious. The college had to put the build out to tender through the European public procurement process and looked for its own architect and main contractor, while the research centre wanted to work with a range of specialist contractors. This gave rise to challenges in areas such as legislation and regulations, safety and collaboration. As a result, it became a dynamic project in which horticultural technology companies had to work side-by-side with builders from the non-residential construction sector.

The building was therefore built using technologies from two completely different worlds. The concrete structure of the college had to integrate seamlessly with the steel of the multi-use building, and this central building in turn had to fit in well with the new research facilities.

Geothermal heat

The mix of technologies is apparent all over the centre. The greenhouse roof above the auditorium has a horizontal energy screen and an insulated roof, but it also has a sprinkler system to meet fire safety regulations. The multi-use building does not have standard radiators but is instead heated with heating pipes fitted on the insulated glass façade.

In the future the centre will be able to be heated with geothermal heat, but at present the heating comes from the boiler system in the research greenhouse. The sprinkler system is fed from the cisterns installed under the experimental facility.

Good teamwork

The first pile was driven on 6 December 2016. “Our role developed into that of managing the whole project process,” says Hanemaaijer. “We had to arrange the design, the permits, the procurement procedures and the site supervision.”

It was essential that everyone involved could integrate their own discipline into the whole package, he says. “That had various consequences. Sometimes we had to accept that things would be different from what we had originally planned in the design. But it also meant that there was a great sense of teamwork. For instance, the multi-use building consists of an underground and an above-ground part. The two parts were built by two different contractors, one of which, Smiemans Projecten, specialises in speciality greenhouses and the other, Eekhout Bouw, in non-residential construction. By working together they were able to reduce the build time for the steel structure.”

“We had to encourage everyone to think creatively about how to implement the overall package, sticking to certain set parameters,” Rodenrijs adds. “That meant that a lot of people had to step outside their comfort zones and get talking to the other builders.”

Full picture

The central building can accommodate around 100 businesses. Each one rents a stand where they can present their products, and some can demonstrate the use of their products in the greenhouse. “That’s great added value,” says project manager Lex Wubben of Demokwekerij Westland. “It’s a real calling card for businesses. They can receive customers and hold meetings here and show their products in use in the greenhouse setting. We’re building a hub here.”

The predominantly international customers that come here can see a reflection of the Dutch greenhouse horticulture industry with their own eyes. They get the full picture, with the exhibition floor divided into four themes: technology, suppliers, ornamental production and greenhouse food production. The technology theme is further subdivided into greenhouse structures, crop systems and logistics, energy and climate, cultivation equipment, and services and consultancy.

Cross-pollination

“We looked for companies that fitted in with these themes,” Wubben says. “The businesses here are market-leading and progressive and really do add something. We wanted the centre to be a reflection of the sector, which is why there are several businesses in each theme. So there are various plant breeders and greenhouse builders represented here, for example.”

That cross-pollination can take place between business and education here is already abundantly clear. Some of the businesses had their stands designed by students as a project assignment. Others set up apprenticeships. “There are short lines of communication between education and research here. The businesses get to meet the students. With the issues facing the job market right now and in the future, there are plenty of opportunities here,” says Wubben. “We show them how great the greenhouse horticulture sector is. It helps create a positive image and we hope that this will encourage more people to choose this sector as a career option.” An online platform complements the physical building.

Connecting, inspiring, innovating

The finishing touches were made to the greenhouse fittings at the end of last year in preparation for the new research projects scheduled to begin there. The businesses have set up their stands and the students have been swarming over different parts of the building since last August. The official opening took place in March.

The end result of the project was ultimately much better than they had expected in the design phase, the three innovators claim. “We are connecting people, inspiring people and innovating,” Wubben says. “The centre serves as the catalyst for greenhouse horticulture in the Netherlands.”

Summary

Research, business and education come together at the new World Horti Center in the Dutch town of Naaldwijk, which was officially opened in March. The cross-pollination can be seen in the build, in which horticultural technology companies worked side-by-side with non-residential construction companies. It also has huge added value for the sector, the initiators claim. The centre serves as a catalyst for greenhouse horticulture in the Netherlands.

Text and images: Marjolein van Woerkom.

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If we were to make an analysis of the horticulture industry thirty years from now, we would see that horticulture businesses have morphed into pure production enterprises: organisations driven by consumer preference, in the way of ‘personalised food’. The consumer will be fully in power, and large-scale industry will cater to these consumers, who will ultimately be the ones to determine what the horticulture industry produces.

This was the core message of a lecture given by Pieter Jelle Beers, professor of New Business Models for Agrifood Transition at the HAS University of Applied Sciences and lecturer and senior researcher at the Dutch Research Institute for Transitions. He presented his vision of the future at the official opening of the World Horti Center on 7 March. Beers based his statements on an explorative study of the future of the horticulture industry, which he conducted in collaboration with several market players and government bodies.

Personalised diet

It won’t be long until our health needs determine what we eat. Everyone will be on a personalised diet – ‘personalised food’ – because we will soon know exactly which food types are best suited to our genomes, our genes and our taste. And the food-producing industry will know this too, as well as our health insurer. All this information will soon determine which fruit or vegetables we, as consumers, should be eating. According to Beers, there is no need to wonder if this will happen, because this transition has already been initiated. To prove his point, he refers to the Actify app developed by health insurer Zilveren Kruis: a digital coach that helps people lead more healthy lives. The app also collects a great deal of data about people’s preferences.

Circularity and participation

Later on that afternoon, Frank Hollaar of the Flynth consultancy and accountancy firm provided a more in-depth analysis of P.J. Beers’ vision of the future. Flynth is one of the market players that collaborated on this explorative study. According to Hollaar, circularity will be a criterion for operating in the horticulture industry in 2050, and personalised food will be a criterion for combating waste with regard to both energy and raw materials. Additionally, researchers expect a business model with consumer participation in horticultural production enterprises (e.g. as shareholders) to be inevitable in the future.

Full transparency

The horticulture industry will suffer consequences that many an entrepreneur, from our current perspective, will consider highly unpleasant. A direct consequence is an increase in the number of regulations. Not only will chains become fully transparent; so will cost price composition: from seed to supermarket shelf. Econometry will become more important in the horticulture industry. We will be producing ‘predictively’, and grow only those products for which we are certain to find a buyer. Another question which Hollaar calls to mind is how much space will be left for autonomously operating entrepreneurs. In his vision for the future, this will be rather limited. We will inevitably switch to production horticulture, towards collective or large-scale entrepreneurship with companies that are probably listed on the stock market. Agribusiness will become the standard.

We are destroying the Earth

Another trend addressed by Hollaar - local-for-local in megacities - was wholeheartedly endorsed and discussed in detail at a workshop by Meiny Prins, the director of Priva. Our current behaviour with regard to agriculture and horticulture has to stop, says Prins. Pollution, waste production and the depletion of the planet’s resources are all escalating. We are rapidly destroying the Earth. Currently, 7000 billion dollars is being spent worldwide to support systems that are wrecking our planet. Examples provided by Prins include our dependency on fossil energy sources, industrial farming and palm oil plantations. Prins considers the phasing out of systems like these not only necessary, but inevitable.

Three key trends

Meiny Prins has identified three key trends that will determine our future.
1. Technological breakthroughs: we are currently on the brink of the simultaneous breakthrough of several technologies. It is anticipated that we will be powering all our systems primarily with solar energy in 10 years’ time.
2. Everything that lacks added value will cease to exist: oil and gas companies will become entirely worthless in the near future. This principle will also apply to banks, or even our family doctor.
3. This will be the century of the cities: after the empires in the 19th century and the countries in the 20th, the 21st century will be the century in which cities determine the future of mankind.

Residents demand a clean living environment

More and more people living in these cities will call for an end to pollution and corruption. They too want clean air, a green living environment and fresh, locally produced food. All over the world, we are seeing that urban developers – whether out of necessity or not – are engaged in developments in horticulture production. In China, as well as in Brazil and the Arab Emirates, construction companies, project developers and architects are experimenting with the development of horticulture projects. Sometimes, it is even a pre-condition for the construction of apartment buildings or residential neighbourhoods.

The mega-city as a new ecosystem

Urban planners are starting to realise more and more frequently that a ‘green belt’ surrounding a city centre is necessary for food production purposes. The Dutch horticulture industry is perfectly positioned to help cities with this. Not only can we provide all the necessary products and services, we also have all the knowledge needed to facilitate this. Even stronger: the entire Netherlands is actually such a mega city, surrounded by a ‘green belt’ for food production. Actually, we are the living example of a sustainable urban delta – according to Meiny Prins.

Text: Rob van Mil. Photo: Priva.

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The World Horti Center, the global centre for research and innovation for the greenhouse horticulture industry in Naaldwijk, was officially opened on 7 March amid considerable interest. The official opening by Her Majesty Queen Máxima was followed by an afternoon programme featuring numerous speakers, workshops, pitches, tours and demonstrations.

In the presence of the entire Board of Directors and almost the entire Naaldwijk Municipal Council, as well as hundreds of prominent figures in the greenhouse horticulture industry, Queen Máxima set a steel globe spinning in motion. Created specifically for the occasion, the globe stands symbol for the significant contribution of the horticulture chain to global challenges such as food security, food safety, water management, sustainability and health. Minister for Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality Carola Schouten also attended the official opening, in which she placed an emphasis on innovation in the greenhouse horticulture industry in her speech. “The whole world needs more food that is sustainably produced, safe and healthy. The Dutch horticulture industry can play an important part in this development. One of the key phrases expressed by the horticulture industry has always been: ‘Give us a challenge and we will find a solution’. You will find the entire chain under one and the same roof in the World Horti Center.”

Showcase

The global centre for research and innovation in the Westland region, in which education, research, public administration and the corporate world converge, is the first of its kind in the world today. Representatives of all links in the horticulture chain, comprising some 100 businesses, will be exhibiting their latest innovations and development here all year round. Additionally, practically-oriented education at broad intermediate vocational level is offered, as well as a wide range of lectures at university and university of applied sciences level for students as well as the corporate world. The centre is intended to be a breeding ground for new initiatives such as HortiHeroes, an incubator and talent programme for the industry. As a showcase for the horticulture industry, the WHC expects to draw some 25,000 Dutch and international visitors with a professional interest in the industry each year.
Construction started in September 2016. In mid-August 2017 the new building was delivered, after which Lentiz (MBO Westland), Greenport Food & Flower Xperience and Demokwekerij Westland moved in. Peet van Adrichem was involved in the development of the centre for 2½ years. “We were able to achieve this at lightning speed. The idea had been a topic of discussion in the political arena for many years, but it was ultimately achieved in concrete terms by the corporate world in no time at all. Of course, the Queen’s attendance at the opening ceremony triggered participants to get everything in tip-top order.”

Flywheel

Erwin Cardol, who succeeded Peet van Adrichem as the director of Demokwekerij on 1 March, experienced the opening as “very festive” and is extremely satisfied that everything went according to plan. The next step to be taken by Van Adrichem – who is known as the initiator of and driving force behind the World Horti Center – is to enjoy a month-long holiday, after which he will stay on as an advisor at Demokwekerij. Peet: “The management will be taken over by Erwin, who will have to make sure that everything is running smoothly from now on. This will give me the opportunity to focus on matters like internationalisation, innovation and so on.” This is confirmed by Erwin: ‘I will focus primarily on running the company, and not only the innovators. This means that I will also be involved in external communication, relations with government bodies, with Proeftuin Zwaagdijk and the staff. You have to be constantly involved with all the participants, and make sure they contribute to the objectives of this building. These will be our main tasks.” Cardol (48), who has been directing the Seed Valley project organisation since it was founded in 2008, thinks that 25,000 visitors in the first year is realistic. “Today we opened our doors to thousands. And many people asked me if they could bring along a group of people next time they come. This is going to work like a flywheel - a positive spiral of development.”

Text/photos: World Horti Center/Mario Bentvelsen.

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On Tuesday, 20 February a group of interested parties from all over the globe participated in a tour of various greenhouse horticulture enterprises in the Westland region. Approximately 40 persons attended the HortiContact Tour, which brought them to the Lans tomato farm, the World Horti Center, the SV.CO potted plant nursery and Fransen Roses.

The HortiContact Tour is an initiative of HortiContact Gorinchem, In Greenhouses magazine and Uniglobe Westland Business Travel. Its objective is to give international growers and visitors an opportunity to get a closer look at the latest developments in Dutch greenhouses with their own eyes.

Wonderful opportunity

Entrepreneurs and interested parties in the greenhouse horticulturist sector from all over the world grasped this wonderful opportunity with open hands. The participants, all of whom are in some way involved in the horticulture industry, came from such countries as Argentina, South Korea, Azerbaijan, Israel, South Africa and Canada. Enjoying an informal atmosphere, the group learned all about the latest innovations in the Dutch greenhouse horticulture sector.

Looking at tomatoes

Aad Verduijn, acting as the group’s tour guide, bade the participants a warm welcome to the Lans tomato greenhouse in Maasdijk at a few minutes past nine o’clock in the morning, after which he and Wilko Wisse of the Lans tomato farm showed the group around. Wisse and Verduijn explained in English exactly how Lans sets to work in growing its Prominent vine cocktail tomatoes.

A volley of questions

The international guests made use of this opportunity to bombard the tour guides with a volley of questions, ranging from information about biological and chemical crop protection agents to the ideal distance between the top of a plant and the roof of a greenhouse. Wisse and Verduijn made every effort to answer the diversity of questions to the best of their ability.

World Horti Center

After visiting Lans, the participants of the HortiContact Tour once again boarded the coach, which was provided by Uniglobe Westland Business Travel, and headed to the World Horti Center in Naaldwijk. Here, Verduijn and Stefan Persoon of Inno Agro showed the group around the research greenhouses. Persoon and Verduijn informed the international company about the origins of the World Horti Center and the type of research currently being conducted in the research greenhouses. This was followed by a series of brief sales pitches by representatives of Kubo, BOAL and Modiform, through which the group was introduced to their products.

From cutting to potted plant

During a lunch served at the World Horti Center the tour group became better acquainted with one another. The next stop was the SV.CO potted plant nursery in De Lier. Following a brief introduction, Verduijn and the nursery’s owner Jelle Strijbis took the group through the SV.CO greenhouse, where the cultivation process of potted plants was described from start to finish. Because the cultivation process at SV.CO is fully automated, a visit to the nursery offered a fantastic opportunity for the international entrepreneurs to ask questions about automating the cultivation process.

Challenges in rose cultivation

Fransen Roses in De Lier was the last site visited by the group. Many of the questions asked general director Aad Fransen concerned the greatest challenges facing a rose nursery today. Fransen indicated that, speaking for himself, being able to grow his roses 100% organically was his greatest concern. Consultant Hugo Plaisier of Ludvig Svensson rounded off the tour by giving the visitors more information about the screens and misting system used in the Fransen greenhouse. After a tour of the greenhouse and one last round of questions, the coach took the participants back to their hotel, where they were able to allow all the information they had gleaned to slowly sink in.

Text: Leo Hoekstra. Photos: Mario Bentvelsen.

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How is an astronaut similar to a tomato farmer? They both need to reuse their raw materials, proclaims researcher Angelo Vermeulen in Dutch newspaper Het Algemeen Dagblad. The Belgian biologist will be giving lectures at the World Horti Centre starting on 19 January. He will be presenting seven knowledge sessions, open to the public, examining what the horticulture sector can learn from the Aerospace industry.

According to Vermeulen the methods used in outer space should be copied on earth as well as by the horticulture sector. ‘It is simply impossible to take everything you want along with you to outer space. Therefore, you must be able to reuse everything you have. The general answer to this question is therefore: circular thinking.’

The circular greenhouse

Vermeulen is of the opinion that the horticulture sector should switch to a fully closed ecosystem. ‘In which waste water is purified to serve as a raw material, for example. Plant waste is transformed into nutrients for new plants, and solar heat serves as a source of energy. To put it briefly, a greenhouse in which everything is reused, nothing is lost and the environment is spared to the greatest possible extent. Exactly in the same way that we set to work in outer space.’ If it were up to Vermeulen, greenhouses like this will be available in 20 years’ time. ‘The objective of my lectures is to bridge the gap between science and day-to-day practice. There are enough concepts available for a circular greenhouse, but their practical application will take years to implement. Why is this so? A lack of knowledge, and everything is still rather fuzzy.’

Reuse of water

One of the subjects that Vermeulen will investigate in his lectures at the World Horti Centre is the reuse of water. ‘Water reuse is perhaps the most important subject in environments like that on Mars. You have to be very frugal, just as in a greenhouse. Reusing water, or recirculating it, is not yet the standard in the greenhouse horticulture sector, even though there are already many greenhouses that do reuse water. It is the intention that all farmers will be putting this into practice in the long term. Water should be used more frequently as a substrate, for example.’

Farming in space

According to the biologist, there is no room for chemical crop protection agents in a circular greenhouse. Additionally, the farmer – just as an astronaut on Mars – will have to cope with space constraints. ‘This will become part of horticulture in the future: growing crops in an urban environment, resulting in a shorter production chain. This can be directly compared to the infrastructure needed to grow crops on the moon or on Mars: making optimum use of the limited space available and a high degree of controllability.’
Seed grower Rijk Zwaan has already had some of its seeds projected into space by NASA to discover how seeds can germinate and plants can grow without gravity. But will we actually start growing food in space? ‘Certainly, there is no doubt about it. And that’s why it would be a good idea to start making all our systems circular right now,’ concludes Vermeulen.

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Source: AD/LTO Glaskracht. Photo: The New York Hall of Science/Wikimedia.