World Horti Center brings together Dutch greenhouse sector - World Horti Center

World Horti Center brings together Dutch greenhouse sector

ONLY the Dutch could create such an ambitious project as the World Horti Center

Opened in March this year, the world-first facility is located in Westland, on The Netherlands coast, which at 4500ha is the largest greenhouse production area in the world, with 670 horticultural companies

The centre brings the whole greenhouse horticultural sector of The Netherlands under a single roof, through a joint partnership of education, research, business and government.

In an exclusive tour given to The Weekly Times last month, the local government minister responsible for horticulture and economic affairs, Karin Zwinkels, said the multi-­million Euro facility was critical to the future of horticulture.

“The connection between all these sectors is urgent,” Karin said.

“It’s urgent because jobs for the future are quickly changing and we want to be prepared, in terms of innovation, technology, sustainability and providing food security.

“In December for instance we’re holding HortiHeroes, an incubator and talent program for young start-ups who can pitch their ideas.”

Double Dutch

World Horti Center encompasses three levels, where the work of researchers, about 100 industry companies, several Dutch universities including 1300 students and government all combine.

The ground level of the centre features a 6500sq m research facility with a series of secure “docks” operated by companies, with project descriptions posted on doors.

One door’s description reads “crop protection in open fields”, another “control of mildew on cucumbers and tomatoes”, while others examine impacts of white fly, effects of fertilisation and one focuses on a new variety, the tomberry (a berry-size tomato marketed as a snack food like chips).

Each dock can simulate climate conditions in any country of the world, regulated from a central control room.

In another section of the ground level, products featuring state of the art horticultural technology and innovation from about 100 companies are showcased.

A company called QWestland has invented LED lights that also produce air.

Priva features a tomato-harvesting robot.

The VB Group specialises in geothermal energy, able to tap into the resource as deep as 4km underground.

Kubo creates “ultra climate greenhouses” for use in extreme zones from tropical to very cold.

The Qlipr company has “become filthy rich” creating a simple clip for truss tomatoes on a rope.

Innovation generation

On the second level, 1300 students take part in a range of new TAFE and academic courses, some even taking part in internships run by horticultural companies.

One of the new subjects offered is “how space can learn from agriculture”, and another focuses on the future of personalised food, where participants have DNA tested and a prescribed diet assigned.

Centre spokeswoman Angelique de Wit said students researched in a genuine start-up manner, with “hackathons” providing analysis and solutions for business cases for companies.

Practical student study projects include the use of drones in greenhouses to improve cultivation turnover, increase the quality of the harvest and reduce the quantity of pesticides used in the greenhouses.

Angelique said a large commercial kitchen was not used to teach cooking, but instead encouraged students to investigate the health benefits of fruit and vegetables, already finding that “drinking the water from steamed broccoli is healthier than eating the broccoli itself”.

The second level also features a year-round trade fair, which Angelique said hosted large delegations of international visitors and open days.

Angelique said it took seven years to bring the facility to fruition and there was no other building like it.

“We say this is the horticultural capital of the world. There’s no country without a Dutch greenhouse and this building sells the package of Dutch horticulture.”

The building itself incorporates many sustainable features, including green walls, high-insulation roofing and solar-powered heat pumps.

Published in The Weekly Times 4 September 2018

Text and photos: Sarah Hudson