"Grower becoming more of an entrepreneur"

"Also in Thailand growers are increasingly becoming entrepreneurs." This is according to Thomas Ruijter with Agri Solutions Asia. Fifteen years ago, Thomas and his companion Menno Keppel left for Thailand to start their technique supply company. These days they see both the companies and the quality demands grow.

Thomas Ruiter & Menno Keppel with A.S.A. provide technical solutions made suit for the Southeast Asian industry, including various Sercom products, shown by Ignacio Rodriguez & Jan-Willem Lut

Fifteen years ago there turned out to be little interest in greenhouse technology. "There was little interest in horticulture in general and the industry was far from being big and developed enough for serious investments", Thomas told us last week at the Horti Asia in Bangkok. That's why he and Menno started a demo greenhouse for their techniques, which grew into a serious tomato farm. Their brand Take Me Home Tomatoes is now one of Thailand's premier brands, being sold in the bigger Thai supermarkets.

But since their arrival in Thailand 15 years ago, circumstances have changed, and A.S.A. is now a concept in the region. They provide Dutch technologies, adapted to local conditions - something they have a lot of experience with, thanks to their own nursery. "Transferring Western products to the climate one-on-one simply does not work. The culture here is different, and so is for starters the language. Then there are the climatic conditions, making it impossible to copy from Dutch greenhouses", Thomas continues. "You're dealing with a high temperature and a high humidity. We're specialized in the tropical conditions in Southeast Asia and can help our clients by adapting Western technologies to these circumstances."

A.S.A. serves customers from the whole horticultural sector: from cut flowers and potted plants to strawberry and lettuce growers. They've been working with Sercom and Luiten Greenhouses products for years. "Currently there are many opportunities for technology in high-value crops like lettuce, leafy vegetables and melons."

Up-scaling is currently an important trend in Southeast Asian horticulture. As a result of the developments in the industry, companies are getting bigger whilst smaller individual growers disappear.

Thomas saw the start of this development. "At first local markets were the place for growers to sell their products. Then supermarkets were introduced, serving the growing middle class. They work with different quality standards and product requirements, and that influences the sector."

Growers used to invest in the product itself and ways to grow it at first. Now the market and the price are settled, the primary focus is on efficiency: how can we increase the yield from a certain surface and with the use of the same amount of raw materials?"

Process control
Process control will be important in the market's next phase, Thomas expects. "We see the first steps in this direction. Investors enter the market, as well as parties managing the chain from the market up to the grower. To them, risk management is an important concept: supermarkets want to have tomatoes of constant quality on the shelf year-round. They want to make the processes as predictable as possible and do not want to leave anything to chance, thus requiring a different approach from the grower. One has to change because the market is changing: the grower is becoming more and more of an entrepreneur."

For more information on Take me Home Tomatoes:
Thomas Ruiter (e-mail)
Menno Keppel (e-mail)

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