Cindy van Rijswick, Rabobank

"Vertical farming in the Netherlands not an addition"

As a senior analyst at RaboResearch Food & Agribusiness, Cindy van Rijswick looks at international developments in the fruit and vegetable chain daily. Also vertical farming - a much discussed topic - is part of this. "In the Netherlands we are too down-to-earth to receive every initiative with enthusiasm," says Cindy. Our Westland greenhouses are full with the most advanced technologies. Vertical farming is not really an addition here."

Cindy van Rijswick during the final of the 'Design the Ultimate Greenhouse Challenge'  of Wageningen University.

Urban farming in the Netherlands
In numbers, the entire concept of vertical farming worldwide is still very limited: 20 to 30 hectares compared to a million hectares of greenhouses with vegetables and ornamental plants. But it is a much discussed topic. When the roof greenhouse of The New Farm in The Hague recently went bankrupt, many were saying: I told you so. And now also the banking sector is voicing criticism about the Dutch version of Urban Farming.
"Cultivation in the city can be a solution in areas where trucks have to drive for days to bring fresh food to the consumer," says Cindy. "But in the Netherlands this is not an issue. Within an hour's drive from our greenhouses in Westland and Oostland more than 10 million consumers are already within reach. In terms of production costs, it is simply not possible to compete with the Westland. The technology is expensive, but this is the reason that the cost price cannot come close to regular production."
Cultivate in vacant buildings
It is not that Rabobank simply discards the developments in the field of urban farming. In the crisis years, the bank looked into the possibilities to cultivate in vacant office buildings. "We soon found out that this is not that easy. Often the buildings are not suitable for establishing a nursery in it. The floors are not strong enough or the water supply will become a problem. In addition a change of usage of the building must be arranged, and all kinds of insurance matters will arise."

Question marks
So a limited perspective in the Netherlands. What is the situation worldwide? Cindy sees perspective in America but she has her doubts about the size of the investments. "Hundreds of millions are being invested. I do not quite see how those investors will get their money back in the short term. I can imagine that vertical farming does offer a solution for the production of lettuce in the Middle East. Energy can be generated with solar panels. The existing projects will not immediately be profitable, but they have a greater chance of success, because they are meeting a need."
Opportunities for breeding
Cindy does see opportunities for the application of vertical farming in breeding. "They do not compete with other producers, but use vertical farming to conduct research under very controlled circumstances. Possibly it may also be interesting if you serve specific customers with a special need," says Cindy cautiously. "For example, customers who are in need of clean products all year round. The vertical farming project of Staay Food Group seems to have some perspective. But it is important that they have that project as an addition to their current activities. Another example is the greenhouse on the roof of the Greenhouse restaurant in Utrecht. There it is used to provide the restaurant with an experience. In both examples the business model is not based on production."

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Cindy van Rijswick

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