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John Hoogeboom reflects on his longstanding career:
"Pace of innovation in horticulture is phenomenal"
John has been living and working in the United States for more than 35 years now. Some in our industry will know him from his current role at U.S. greenhouse manufacturer Rough Brothers Inc, where he's been working since 2003. The older veterans in our industry will know John Hoogeboom as one of the pioneers with a longstanding career in international horticulture.
Born in the province of Friesland, John started his professional career working as a project manager for a Dutch electrical installation company. At a young age, he worked in Australia for a while, and coming back to Holland he was asked by a local greenhouse equipment supplier to explore the opportunities in the UK market. "I managed the English language, but didn't know too much about horticulture at that time. After spending a year with several Dutch horticultural companies to learn the tricks of the trade, I dived into the UK market to discover business opportunities for Van Vliet Pijnacker BV, nowadays better known as HortiMaX."
John recalls that time as a period in which greenhouse technology was still in its infancy. He witnessed the introduction of the first rockwool, energy screens, and irrigation units. "At that time nobody believed in this technology, many thought it was baloney. But soon after the 1973 Oil Crisis, energy and efficiency became very important to greenhouse growers too. Energy costs increased by 300%, all of a sudden things needed to become more efficient. This is when a lot of new technology was developed. I remember for instance being involved with one of the first energy retention screens in the UK. During the first years I drove many miles throughout the UK to introduce our systems and solutions."
Next to his work in the UK, John started to work on projects in other countries, including Russia, Greece and Ireland. "During that time I visited the United States every now and again. In 1982 he moved to the US to explore new markets for Van Vliet. But after five years we came to the conclusion that both the market and the company was not ready for the United States. We could sell equipment and install projects, but servicing the control systems was not as easy as it is today. Remember that we did not have any computers, internet or modem to dial into. Things were a bit more complicated."
Nonetheless, John decided to stay in the States. "Going back to Holland was a bit complicated; my children had grown up abroad, they were used to the language, universities and lifestyle. That is why we decided to settle permanently in the United States."
From 1987 to 1995, John worked as a General Manager for the greenhouse construction business of the Van Wingerden in Horse Shoe, North Carolina. Eventually in 1995, John founded his own company, serving growers and investors with turnkey growing projects throughout North America.
"Together with my wife we were involved in special projects, most of them dedicated to cultivation in Mexico. I designed a system that could cope with the local climates and was involved in some pretty outstanding projects. In those days climate control, screening, irrigation and automation started to take up a bigger role than just the greenhouse itself. Projects started to become more advanced and innovative," says John, who was also a president for the National Greenhouse Manufacturing Association (NGMA) for a while.
John enjoyed working on projects as an independent operator. He traveled all over the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Unfortunately his life came to a pivotal moment right after 9/11. "I remember that day like it was yesterday. On the morning of September 11, I was at Detroit airport about to board a homebound flight to Asheville. All of a sudden all of the flights got cancelled due to the hijacks and many people got stuck in the terminal. I could not get a rental car, no flights home and ended up spending 2.5 days at an airport hotel before I finally got a rental car to get home."
While 9/11 changed the lives of many, John experienced another turning point when he was diagnosed with leukemia shortly thereafter. While he recovered from the disease , health insurance-related issues made him decide to stop his own business. "I took on a new opportunity with Rough Brothers Inc. in 2003, where I continued on the same foot; specializing in vegetable production greenhouses."
John explains that he likes the position Rough Brothers, Inc. has in the US market. "I am especially active in the small and medium size vegetable projects. These projects typically require a special approach and not a single project is the same. I help potential customers with the design of their facility and associated control equipment and growing systems."
One of the projects John has been working on, for example, is the Green City Growers greenhouse in Cleveland, Ohio. The advanced leafy greens production ponds and climate controls illustrate the evolution of greenhouse technology. "When I entered this industry 45 years ago you did not have any computers or automated vents, heating or irrigation. The pace of innovation in horticulture is phenomenal and not easy to keep up with."
Another evolution John has witnessed is the scale increase. "I remember that we built the first 4 acres for Metrolina Greenhouse Company, a company that today is more than 126 acres in size. Nowadays a tomato grower of 8 hectares is considered a relatively small player, while 45 years ago a family could live off a 30,000 square feet farm."
John hopes to retire by the end of this year at the age of 76. "The company is training several young engineers to replace me. This industry requires a lot of experience, which is something you cannot learn in school."
John admits that he is going to miss the industry. "It has become a big part of my life. I am going to miss a lot of my customers and suppliers, who I consider as close friends. Maybe this is also the reason why I did not retire ten years ago."
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