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Henk Gerichhausen cultivated tomatoes in China for more than a year:
"I mainly taught the Chinese how to look at plants"
In February 2017 Dutch greenhouse grower Henk Gerichhausen set foot on Chinese land for the first time to visit the brand new 5 hectare greenhouse operation of Beijing Hongfu International Agriculture Ltd. Having his own greenhouse company signed over to his son, he took on the challenging position as Head Grower. After flying back and forward for 14 months, his job is done now.
Remarkable on the cooperation is Henks focus. Unlike other Dutchmen helping growers abroad, he chose not to spend a few days every month in China, but to be part of the community for 3 weeks per month on average. "Others often choose to spend only a few days in China every month, but in that short time it is difficult to transfer your cultivation knowledge properly."
This can be challenging anyhow - for starters only for the language problem. "I always had an interpreter at my side who spoke excellent English and Chinese of course. Nevertheless, it was challenging to transfer professional knowledge via an interpreter to Chinese growers. And after more than a year in China, I actually only know the Chinese word for tomato", Henk confesses.
Henk with his interpreter
The Hongfu nursery is a modern Venlo glasshouse, equipped with present day technology such as a double screen installation and insect netting. Over the last years more projects like this, equipped with modern day technology, have been erected in China.
"There is no lack of climate computers in modern greenhouses, but you have to know exactly how to apply the information", Henk explains "For the Dutch, horticulture is anchored in our knowledge. I myself have been in horticulture for over 40 years - starting with the inheritance from my father and building up experience over this whole period. This is of course lacking in China, being new in high-tech horticulture. It is up to us to transfer this knowledge to other countries. That's why I mainly taught the Chinese how to look a plant thoroughly, and to adjust the climate in the greenhouse based on the condition of the plant. "
Food supply chain
A second big challenge for the Chinese horticulture is efficiency and optimizing use of resources. "For example the loading of trucks occurred with crates, one by one instead of on a pallet. This has changed by now, but in Netherlands this would be unthinkable. In the Netherlands, we calculate everything up to three decimal places, trying to optimize everything. Due to the price of growing and the low margins this is necessary in the Netherlands. In China this isn't the situation yet, resulting in a more relaxed use of time."
He expects this will change though, just as Henk expects the Chinese tomato cultivation to become more energy efficient. "The price of gas in China is very high, for example. Right now that's compensated for by investors and government subsidies, but that will also end one day."
Also the connection with the market is something to work on. The supply chain is still in its infancy and the connection between growers and the chain partners can be bettered. Hongfu's partner in this is sales organisation Levarht, with whom they've been working since the start. The connection with the chain partners and the consumer is an important one for the future, Henk explains. He recalls noticing how tomato pickers did not eat any raw tomatoes while picking. "Chinese people tend to eat everything cooked, which makes the flavor of tomatoes much less important. It will be a challenge for tomato growers to introduce the Chinese to the very diverse flavors of the raw tomato."
After his experience in China, Henk would like to travel abroad again to share more of his cultivation knowledge. "There is plenty of work for people who want to share their professional knowledge. If I were 20 years old, I would make sure that I would first gain years of experience with growing, then I would travel the world to share that knowledge. I may be 63 myself, but if I can get to know other countries in combination with my work, then I would like to go on another adventure."
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