Greenhouses, once seen as a wasteful way to grow produce, are now an efficient and sustainable source of production thanks to new technology developments from pioneers such as Levarht that cut down on the carbon footprint
Growing under glass has played a major role in the development of the Dutch horticultural sector since glasshouses were first introduced in 1850 to grow cut flowers and produce, including grapes.
Historically it was not an environment-friendly way of production, given the amount of energy, water, and pesticide use associated with it. By the mid-1990s growers started to introduce measures, and according to a report by Wageningen University, by 2012 energy use was down 40% from 1990 levels.
The sector has continued to improve its ecological performance, and at the forefront of these developments is Dutch producer and distributor Levarht, which has partnerships with major growers in the Netherlands and worldwide.
Levarht’s commercial director Claas van Os says the company is looking to take the expertise developed in the Netherlands to its overseas sites. “Glasshouse production is sustainable, compared to an open field, [it uses] at least 40 times less water,” he says.
“With projects such as geothermal heating, glasshouse production is also becoming more and more self sufficient and neutral. We’re also seeing glasshouse construction near energy plants, using rest warmth and CO2, [and this] contributes significantly to sustainability.
“Our philosophy is based upon sustainability. Therefore, in making our decisions in construction of new agricultural parks, sustainability is key.”
Van Os adds that one of the key influencers in the Netherlands for developing highly efficient, quality production, is the Dutch way of thinking. “Bringing the best links in the supply chain together, working together with the same objectives,” he says.
“In the coming years we will bring Dutch technology, taste, and quality to local production. Examples can [already] be found in the Middle East and China, all based upon the high quality Dutch varieties, technology and agronomy knowledge combined with category management and consumer insights.
“A small country like Holland, is also for that reason, able to have an influence all over the world in fruit and vegetables.”
Levarht has built a network of global growers to ensure year-round supply, and is proud of its record of fair dealings with its partners and employees, which it also sees as an important element in its sustainability values. However, at the core of its business is concern for consumers.
“Everything starts with the consumer, and reducing the wait [for produce] is top of our minds,” adds van Os. “So [it’s] all about the supply chain; working closely together with all involved, from growers to logistics partners, from seed companies to retail. Next to our key products in tomatoes and melons, we supply our customers worldwide [with] a wide range of produce all year round, including all kinds of exotics and berries.
“We need to establish strong partnerships with growers from South America to Africa, from sout-east Asia to the Mediterranean.”
Ensuring customer satisfaction is the priority for all growers and suppliers, and a subject that will be eagerly discussed at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference, but as van Os states that means really listening to what consumers are asking for.
Levarht has been quick to pick up on the demand for local produce, and that’s not just a UK trend, but one that is gaining traction in many countries. This trend is not just about supporting growers on home territory, but also for environmental gains.
“Local production leads to a reduction of export and import transport, that is a quick win,” says van Os. “We can still make a lot of progress in our existing markets in Europe, the Middle East or America. The consumer has shown a great interest in local product, so also in the marketing of our produce, local product contributes to the development of new markets.”
The future is orange
When it comes to breaking or expanding into markets, there are some exciting times ahead for Levarht, which is growing its herbs business and developing its marketing for glasshouse grown vegetables and melons.
“Herbs are a growing market. We source and supply a wide, and growing, range all year round, [both] conventional and organic,” he says.
“We will also be showing our new concepts [at the Amsterdam Produce Show] with the objective of bringing more enjoyment to the shelves, and helping consumers with recipes and new improved varieties [of fruit and vegetables].”
As Levarht prepares to export its expertise to destinations such as China, India and other global locations, one hopes these markets also take on board its enthusiasm for, and dedication to, fresh produce.