Pioneering climate-neutral innovations in Dutch greenhouse horticulture

April 9, 2024
6 minutes
Pioneering climate-neutral innovations in Dutch greenhouse horticulture
Dutch greenhouse horticulture is a major sector, with more than 3,300 specialized companies representing an export value of €10.8 billion. This makes greenhouse horticulture one of the most important sectors within Dutch agribusiness. Patrick Westerburger, Managing Partner, Kestria Netherlands, interviewed Adri Bom-Lemstra, the chairman of Glastuinbouw Nederland, about innovations in the sector.

There are all kinds of challenges facing this sector at both national and international levels. The figurehead of the sector and chairman of Glastuinbouw Nederland, Adri Bom-Lemstra, talks passionately about the answer to these challenges. According to her, the key to future success lies in the innovative power of the sector and the realization that collaboration is necessary to realize those innovations.

What is the importance of the Dutch greenhouse horticulture sector?

The importance of our sector is enormous. The Netherlands is the birthplace of some of the world's most significant seed companies and we stand as a comprehensive production chain, extending from propagation companies to growers. We excel in the entire logistics of the fresh produce chain, including vegetables, fruit, flowers and plants. The collaboration of all companies, including trade organizations and governments, is unified under what we call the Greenport. The Greenport holds tremendous economic significance, surpassing Schiphol Airport in terms of both employment and added value. Impressively, this fact remains relatively unknown to the general public and politicians alike. Annually, greenhouse horticulture contributes €7.9 billion to the Dutch economy, accounting for 1% of the gross domestic product. A majority of the exports, valued at €10.8 billion, consisting of fruit and vegetables, flowers and plants, are destined for our immediate neighbours in Western Europe. However, the benefits of our cluster extend globally, encompassing greenhouse builders and numerous suppliers of greenhouse technology. All companies within the sector contribute to research conducted by Wageningen University & Research (WUR), among others. It's this shared knowledge that benefits the entire sector, enabling us to secure our export position.

What are the main challenges for the future?

The studies I mentioned earlier also focus on achieving the energy transition. Additionally, we have developed a vision regarding the importance of water quality and how to address diseases and pests while aiming to grow resilient varieties organically as much as possible.

The ambitions are lofty. We are targeting 2030 for widespread adoption of organic growing practices. As for climate-neutral production, our goal is to achieve this by 2040, positioning our sector as the first in the Netherlands to be completely climate-neutral and a decade ahead of the Paris Agreement. Despite recent economic challenges, including high gas prices, we remain committed to these objectives. Several entrepreneurs within our sector are already nearing climate neutrality, although achieving this broadly depends on various factors and is not yet accessible to all.

Is this all happening because the consumer asks for it?

The consumer is more critical, and society is more critical. As a sector, we aim to anticipate the demands that consumers place on us. Not all countries currently produce according to these strict standards, but we want to take responsibility and not wait for society to enforce it. If we don't, our sector will no longer be relevant. Thanks to our measures, products produced in the Netherlands have a low environmental footprint, something a critical consumer recognizes. The consumption of fresh vegetables and fruits contributes to a healthy lifestyle. Moreover, our sector represents, for example, the growers of plants that significantly contribute to a healthy living environment in homes, schools and offices. Children in green classrooms with plants perform better and have greater concentration. In other words, plants contribute to a healthy living environment, and we should consider this in the design phase, starting with newly constructed buildings.

What is the secret behind all the innovations in the sector?

There is so much happening in my sector in the field of scientific cross-pollination. The Delft University of Technology works closely with the agricultural scientists of Wageningen University & Research (WUR) to ensure that the results of greenhouse tests are more efficient on all fronts. This collaboration makes the work more accurate, insightful and faster, requiring less manpower. As a result, there is significant cross-sectoral innovation in areas like robotization, climate technology and photonics. For example, we use cameras to detect diseases in plants and take precise action. In addition to collaboration with the Technical University and WUR, we also work with Leiden University in the field of health. Our collaborations extend beyond national borders, working together with universities in Belgium and Germany.

The triple helix approach is crucial in our sector; it represents a collaboration between the business community, governments and knowledge institutions. This approach is a network structure without hierarchy, where the pace of progress is determined by the weakest link. This typically Dutch method is likely the secret behind the success we achieve and aim to achieve with innovation. It didn’t come naturally; we began in one region and gradually expanded to others, a process we are still pursuing. This strategy ensures that our sector has a voice and is recognizable to the public.

Such collaboration is immensely helpful in finding suitable solutions at the national level, for example, in the fields of energy or employment. Politicians know how to find us for our sector’s vision and solutions, which is vital. Otherwise, we would merely be a part of the broader agricultural umbrella. We also explore collaborative opportunities within Europe.

You speak with so much passion about the sector. How did you get into it? 

Through my past work, I have engaged with many sectors, including economics. This region encompasses nearly all top sectors, such as the Port of Rotterdam, the aerospace expertise of Delft University and, of course, the manufacturing industry in its diverse forms. What draws me to horticulture, however, is its openness and simultaneously being a high-tech cluster. This dual nature is relatively unknown to the outside world, yet there is a rich exchange of knowledge within the sector. We collectively face challenges head-on. Additionally, a new generation is emerging that adopts a comprehensive perspective and recognizes that collaborative advocacy yields the most effective solutions to larger challenges.

Could you specify the types of challenges to which you are referring?

Recently, critical questions have been raised about the sector, a trend that should undoubtedly continue. For instance, with the scarcity of land for housing in the Netherlands, our sector has come under scrutiny. However, any examination should be grounded in facts. Contrary to claims that we are consuming more land, the reality is that our sector occupies only 0.2% of the land area, a figure that has remained stable for years. Moreover, we have significantly increased production within the same surface area, indicating our growing efficiency. Given the challenges posed by climate change, the need for covered cultivation becomes even more pressing. The collaborative strength within the Dutch chain enables innovation, drawing global attention to our techniques, technology usage and approaches to energy transition and water management. The Netherlands provides a comprehensive model, including knowledge transfer regarding cultivation and fresh logistics. The growing interest from private equity firms underscores our sector's attractiveness, recognizing the Netherlands as a leader in addressing global food challenges and highlighting greenhouse horticulture as a leading sector worldwide.


The Dutch greenhouse horticulture sector, boasting over 3,300 companies, commands an impressive export value of €10.8 billion. This vibrant industry is not just a significant player on the economic front but also a leader in innovation and sustainability. With ambitious goals set for the near future, the sector is on a path to achieving 100% organic crop protection by 2030 and aims to become completely climate-neutral by 2040. The driving force behind this wave of innovation is the Triple Helix model, a synergistic collaboration among governments, universities, and businesses. This partnership fosters a conducive environment for breakthroughs in sustainability and efficiency, underlining the sector's commitment to environmental stewardship and economic growth.

About Glastuinbouw Nederland

Glastuinbouw Nederland stands at the forefront of the Dutch greenhouse horticulture sector as a paramount entrepreneurial network. This organization emerges from the collaboration of various agricultural organizations, aimed at shaping policy and driving innovation across various critical areas including Labour, Energy, Health & Happiness, Plant Health and Water & Environment. Representing 75% of the country's greenhouse horticulture acreage, it embodies the collective force of Dutch growers dedicated to responsibly producing vegetables, flowers and plants. Their goal is to enhance health and well-being in society, balancing consumer expectations with environmental considerations in a financially sustainable way. The protective greenhouse environment enables the optimization of nature's offerings, minimizes pests and diseases and reduces harmful waste while providing diverse career opportunities.

Patrick Westerburger
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