Marianne Vaes, Agricultural Counselor for the US and Canada: Agroparks in the US a paradise for investors?

Agroparks in the US a paradise for investors?
America is known as the land of opportunity. When it comes to greenhouse horticulture, however, there is still a world to be won. A large amount of greenhouse vegetables are imported from Canada and Mexico and food production often takes place in a different location than in the densely populated East and West coasts. So there is room for improvement. The Netherlands, and in particular the Dutch Greenhouse Delta, are investigating how they can help and have organized an event to highlight the enormous potential for investors in the American agroparks.
triple helix
From the World Horti Center in Naaldwijk (and remotely via video), various experts shed light on the subject. Marianne Vaes, Agricultural Counselor for the US and Canada, kicked off. She said that the Netherlands has become the second largest horticultural exporter worldwide thanks to the ‘triple helix’; cooperation between local communities, government and businesses.
workersLogistics and transportDependence on horticultural importsExtreme weather conditionsDisease and pest controlConsumer demand
There are therefore huge opportunities for greenhouses in the US. “Agroparks can be a very good option to capitalize on this,” she notes, addressing investors. “From the embassy, ​​we would like to work with you to build agroparks.” She points to several growers with Dutch roots who are already active in the US, as well as to new projects that have been started.
Food for the poor
This was followed by a previously recorded speech by Andrew Young, former United States ambassador to the United Nations and mayor of Atlanta, as well as close friend of Martin Luther King Jr. He referred to his time in the Netherlands and said that he had learned a lot from the Dutch and has great respect for them.
“When I became mayor in 1982, Herman Vonhof was the first to show his faith in Atlanta. More than a billion was invested in the city,” says the former mayor, making it a shining example of social capitalism. “Now there is a new challenge that requires major investment: we must feed the poor.”
“We bought 81 hectares of land just south of Atlanta with the help of Rabobank and we are interested in Dutch technology. Somehow, the Netherlands has become the second largest food exporter, the US is number 1, and the Netherlands is only half the size of the state of Georgia. That you can produce so much on such a small piece of land, that’s the future.”
“It will become increasingly difficult to grow food close to the people who need it. We have to get closer, increase the amount of vitamins and minerals and use less crop protection products.” According to Andrew, this is not only the answer to a health problem, but also to a financial one. “You can’t assume that you can always get food from Mexico or China or even from California to Georgia in the coming years. Food production has to be more local.”
That’s why the Andrew Young Foundation is working with 96 cities on the Mississippi River because they are at risk of flooding. “We need Dutch technology in that river and we need to grow food next to that river, so that when there is a flood, we can feed the poor and provide them with clothing and health care.”
While expressing his appreciation for the Dutch investors, Andrew said that “even though we are confused, we are probably still the safest country in the world to invest large amounts of money in.”
Decentralization
According to speaker Sabine O’Hara of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC), the US has a highly centralized food system. “There is a need for a more decentralized system where food production is closer to the homes of the majority of consumers (the East and West coasts).” At the moment, however, most of the food production takes place in the center of the country.
Sabine pointed to the example of Washington DC, which consists of eight different districts that differ greatly from each other based on population density and economic conditions. Projects of the UDC are underway in each of these districts, aimed at these specific circumstances.
For example, they have built a farm in a district on a 1.21 hectare piece of land opposite a metro station for good accessibility. The company works with high yields, but also teaches residents how to garden. In another district is the main campus of the university. The UDC project there is more of a food production and technology demo site.
From the fork back to the growing environment
The next speaker was Eric Egberts, director of Dutch Greenhouse Delta, who started with a small history lesson to explain how the Dutch, and the Westland in particular, have obtained their leading position in horticulture: cooperation and competition are the two sides of this currency.
Dutch Greenhouse Delta was founded two years ago to share this knowledge and experience. “It represents a complete ecosystem consisting of greenhouse growers, breeding companies, logistics companies, screening, heating and climate control companies; we can provide the whole ecosystem, including knowledge,” Eric says.
“For our philosophy we go back from the fork to the farm: what is the consumer’s need? They demand healthy, safe, locally grown food. It also has to be affordable: if we only grow very expensive products, nobody will buy them Dutch Greenhouse Delta helps with an ecosystem and answers questions about the production of local and fresh food.”
Dutch Greenhouse Delta therefore offers a platform for collaboration because, as Eric puts it, “the horticultural sector is no longer an isolated sector. We have to work together with the energy sector, the water sector… you need it all: good seeds, a good greenhouse , good education, the willingness of the government to help you, you cannot do that alone.”
If you look at America through Dutch eyes, according to Marianne, there are a number of challenges and opportunities:
workersLogistics and transportDependence on horticultural importsExtreme weather conditionsDisease and pest controlConsumer demand
There are therefore huge opportunities for greenhouses in the US. “Agroparks can be a very good option to capitalize on this,” she notes, addressing investors. “From the embassy, ​​we would like to work with you to build agroparks.” She points to several growers with Dutch roots who are already active in the US, as well as to new projects that have been started.
Food for the poor
This was followed by a previously recorded speech by Andrew Young, former United States ambassador to the United Nations and mayor of Atlanta, as well as close friend of Martin Luther King Jr. He referred to his time in the Netherlands and said that he had learned a lot from the Dutch and has great respect for them.
“When I became mayor in 1982, Herman Vonhof was the first to show his faith in Atlanta. More than a billion was invested in the city,” says the former mayor, making it a shining example of social capitalism. “Now there is a new challenge that requires major investment: we must feed the poor.”
“We bought 81 hectares of land just south of Atlanta with the help of Rabobank and we are interested in Dutch technology. Somehow, the Netherlands has become the second largest food exporter, the US is number 1, and the Netherlands is only half the size of the state of Georgia. That you can produce so much on such a small piece of land, that’s the future.”
“It will become increasingly difficult to grow food close to the people who need it. We have to get closer, increase the amount of vitamins and minerals and use less crop protection products.” According to Andrew, this is not only the answer to a health problem, but also to a financial one. “You can’t assume that you can always get food from Mexico or China or even from California to Georgia in the coming years. Food production has to be more local.”
That’s why the Andrew Young Foundation is working with 96 cities on the Mississippi River because they are at risk of flooding. “We need Dutch technology in that river and we need to grow food next to that river, so that when there is a flood, we can feed the poor and provide them with clothing and health care.”
While expressing his appreciation for the Dutch investors, Andrew said that “even though we are confused, we are probably still the safest country in the world to invest large amounts of money in.”
Decentralization
According to speaker Sabine O’Hara of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC), the US has a highly centralized food system. “There is a need for a more decentralized system where food production is closer to the homes of the majority of consumers (the East and West coasts).” At the moment, however, most of the food production takes place in the center of the country.
Sabine pointed to the example of Washington DC, which consists of eight different districts that differ greatly from each other based on population density and economic conditions. Projects of the UDC are underway in each of these districts, aimed at these specific circumstances.
For example, they have built a farm in a district on a 1.21 hectare piece of land opposite a metro station for good accessibility. The company works with high yields, but also teaches residents how to garden. In another district is the main campus of the university. The UDC project there is more of a food production and technology demo site.
From the fork back to the growing environment
The next speaker was Eric Egberts, director of Dutch Greenhouse Delta, who started with a small history lesson to explain how the Dutch, and the Westland in particular, have obtained their leading position in horticulture: cooperation and competition are the two sides of this currency.
Dutch Greenhouse Delta was founded two years ago to share this knowledge and experience. “It represents a complete ecosystem consisting of greenhouse growers, breeding companies, logistics companies, screening, heating and climate control companies; we can provide the whole ecosystem, including knowledge,” Eric says.
“For our philosophy we go back from the fork to the farm: what is the consumer’s need? They demand healthy, safe, locally grown food. It also has to be affordable: if we only grow very expensive products, nobody will buy them Dutch Greenhouse Delta helps with an ecosystem and answers questions about the production of local and fresh food.”
Dutch Greenhouse Delta therefore offers a platform for collaboration because, as Eric puts it, “the horticultural sector is no longer an isolated sector. We have to work together with the energy sector, the water sector… you need it all: good seeds, a good greenhouse , good education, the willingness of the government to help you, you cannot do it alone.
“You don’t buy a Ferrari if you live in the desert”
The next speaker, Cindy van Rijswick of Rabobank, emphasized the financial possibilities offered by advanced greenhouses. These greenhouses will continue to grow despite the huge investments required. That’s because they provide consistency and predictability, which is what retailers look for. And although the profitability can be quite variable, it has been quite high in the Dutch greenhouse sector over the past seven years. That is why it is an attractive sector.
“There are still many opportunities to increase profitability in greenhouses,” notes Cindy. She points to innovations such as dashboards that follow the data in the greenhouse, sensors, LED lighting, innovations in the post-harvest phase and breeding companies that are continuously improving the varieties with regard to productivity, taste, color, etc.
“Keep in mind that the bank must be interested in financing a greenhouse. It is important for banks that a greenhouse can also be sold again,” explains Cindy. “We also look at the marketing strategy and a lot of other things; are the right people in the right positions? If not, companies from the Dutch Greenhouse Delta can help with consultants.”
And while it’s easy to only look at advanced greenhouses, it’s good to remember that there is no single solution to every problem. “You don’t buy a Ferrari if you live in the desert, even if it looks nice. Then you better buy a Toyota Hilux or something like that. It’s the same with greenhouses.”
Federal government should get more involvedRenowned tomato grower and inventor of the Ultra-Clima greenhouse, Casey Houweling, also shed some light on the situation in the US. He sees opportunities, but also pointed out a number of issues that should be handled with care.

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