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Technology and innovation are crucial for growers facing trying times.

In every conversation I've had with growers lately, there's one topic on everyone's mind: sky-high gas and energy prices. Growers are worried about the future of horticulture. Today, innovation is more important than ever: it can help us produce more while using less energy.  

'If things keep going like this, tomatoes will cost €15 to €20 a kilo this winter', experienced growers from the Westland told me this week. For the past few years, I've talked to fruit and vegetable growers pretty much every day and I've learned they tend to speak their minds. Our conversation usually revolves around current events and developments in the industry, while I tell them about my product PAR+, a new greenhouse coating that boosts yields by turning harmful UV light into beneficial PAR light. 

There are few things more interesting to a grower than higher yields. But lately, they're more worried about high gas prices and the economic and political uncertainty that comes with energy insecurity. No wonder: energy is key to growers' production, and even small changes in temperature or sunshine can make the difference between a successful harvest and a costly failure.

These are trying times for Dutch horticulture, which makes up roughly 3 percent of the total economy, while almost 5 percent of Dutch R&D expenditure comes from horticulture. For decades, Dutch horticulturists have excelled at growing ornamental flowers, plants and vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers. Dutch growers exported €12 billion worth of products in 2021, up 25% from the year before.


Today, Dutch growers, from small family farms to large corporations, must show the utmost craftsmanship and ingenuity to survive. Everyone is affected by the skyrocketing energy prices and this leads to an ongoing public debate about the sector. Plantise, a grower in Limburg, announced earlier this month that it was closing indefinitely due to high energy prices. Four hundred people will lose their jobs, the NOS reported.

This is serious stuff. Growers in the Netherlands are world-renowned onproduction efficiency: a tomato plant grown by a Dutch horticulturist produces six times more than a tomato planted abroad – using half as much water. Researchers at Wageningen University & Research found that tomatoes from a Dutch high-tech greenhouse scored best on seven of the eight sustainability metrics. such as effective use of land and water and emission of nutrients and pesticides. Interestingly, energy efficiency is the only indicator that sees Dutch greenhouse tomatoes trailing their counterparts.

How can we use energy more efficiently in a time of high energy prices, while we’re aligning the sector with the Paris climate agreements? 

There's no doubt renewable energy sources will play a major role in our response to this crisis. Basically, greenhouses are physics experiments: energy goes in and energy comes out. To make this process as efficient as possible, heat, humidity, CO2 and light have to be used efficiently, while also being constantly adjusted to outside conditions. 

Leverage technology

Fortunately, this comes naturally to growers. Dutch horticulturists have been leveraging technology for decades to make their industry more efficient and sustainable. In the past years  growers have replaced SON-T lamps with LEDs, increasing efficiency by 40 percent and used heat and cold storage as well as solar water heaters to buffer seasonal fluctuations. Innovative technology enabled Koppert Cress, a leading grower of microgreens, to reduce gas consumption while quadrupling greenhouse space.

Upcoming technology will help growers even more. The Dutch company BBBLS uses soap bubbles to fill the space between special partition walls of greenhouses on demand, which makes the walls much more efficient as flexible insulation. Once the external temperature rises, and the bubbles no longer need to retain heat, they dissolve.

The Delft-based startup Thermeleon focuses on smart heat storage. Through special screens, surplus heat can be stored during the day, then released at night to keep the greenhouse warm.

Boost yields

And of course, our very own PAR+ also reduces energy consumption while boosting yields. Every grower knows sunlight consists of three types of radiation: infrared, UV, and PAR. UV light is harmful for crops. PAR light, on the other hand, fuels photosynthesis and growth in plants. The PAR+ coating converts harmful UV light into PAR light. At the same time, it turns the rays into diffused light, so that PAR light can penetrate deeper into the crop from every angle. When a plant gets 1% more PAR light, its yield goes up 1%. An eight to ten percent increase in yield can be achieved with PAR+ coating in the right conditions.

These examples of ingenuity and resilience give me confidence. Despite challenging times, Dutch horticulturists have shown time and time again that they can innovate. But they can’t do it alone. Horticulture is vital to the Dutch economy and to the ongoing innovation of the global food supply. I sincerely hope the Dutch correctly gauge the true value of the sector, because I believe that is more important now than ever before.

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