Since mid 2018, Arjan Bassie, Remco Roeland, Arthur van Marrewijk, Rik Lootens and Marie Legendre have been approaching every detail from various perspectives, intending to ensure that Syngenta will have a state-of-the-art greenhouse for the Tomato product group by 2020.
'We were actually quite satisfied with the greenhouse we already had', says Arthur. 'Over the past nine years, our experiences with demonstrating new breeds and maintaining customer contacts were fine, but we simply needed to modernise. We needed a place where we could grow our breeds in the same way as in practice and demonstrate this to customers. In the future, growers will be able to adopt everything they see here just as it is in their own greenhouse.'
The new greenhouse is 7 metres tall and can accommodate growing with or without lighting. The current greenhouse is actually too low for this. The new greenhouse will have diffused glass with very high light transmission. Conditions will be uniform throughout the greenhouse, so breeders will not need to repeat experiments as often and the space can be used more efficiently.
The reception area will triple in size, with enough workspaces for the breeders. In the future, they will have all their equipment and experiments in one place. 'The greenhouse will be hosting over 1000 varieties', says Rik. The design of the experimentation department, model department, processing space, laboratories and reception area will all be incorporating the latest guidelines for growing, ergonomics and logistics, while also adhering to all applicable phytosanitary regulations. This entails such measures as fitting the entire greenhouse with gauze and installing perfect disinfection facilities. 'With this greenhouse, we will truly be entering the age of high-tech greenhouses', Rik beams'.
Moving forward and working together with the most modern growers
The ease and pleasure with which the project team discusses the new greenhouse almost makes you forget that the operation is an extremely complex one. 'It already starts with trying to convince management', Rik starts off. 'You can come up with wonderful plans to realise the wishes and ideas of growers and marketing colleagues, but how do you translate those into arguments that appeal to management? It takes quite a bit of lobbying. And of course, there are financial aspects as well. You're engaging in a long-term commitment, and it involves a lot of money.' Despite all this, the benefits of the new greenhouse were amply sufficient for the plan to get the go-ahead.
According to Marie, the new greenhouse is more than just a new calling card. 'With the new greenhouse, we are demonstrating Syngenta's willingness to invest in the development of top-quality varieties that perform well. Not only from an agronomic perspective but also with regard to taste.' Remco adds: 'Better products lead to higher sales. And this way, we can also show that Syngenta is a leader in this crop, that we are well acquainted with modern growing systems and that we are able to follow and work together with the most modern growers. We are of course an advanced company.'
Different than a regular greenhouse concept
In realising the greenhouse, the project was structured so that grower Arjan Bassie is building the new greenhouse at his own cost and risk to subsequently manage, with Syngenta leasing the facilities from him. Arjan will also be responsible for growing and selling the produce. All of the produce will be processed and sold in the normal manner. Arjan will be running the greenhouse like a normal business as much as possible; he is not employed directly by Syngenta.
Finding a suitable grower and suitable location was no easy task. 'I spoke with at least 30 potential candidates before we found two who were suitable', Arthur says. 'I first looked around in my own network, without any real result. We subsequently hired a broker, since they are better acquainted with suitable people and locations in the area.' Rik adds: 'The concept we wanted to develop is different than a regular greenhouse. It wasn't always easy to explain that and motivate people for it. This was quite the opposite with Arjan: he's good at engaging with us. What also makes a difference is that, in the future, he will only have to deal with this greenhouse. He will be able to concentrate fully on what's required there. Other potential candidates often had other activities on the side.'
Full of positive energy despite setback
Before Arjan was selected, he and another candidate had to submit an offer and detail an action plan. In doing so, they could refer to a schedule of requirements drawn up by Remco. In April 2019, the definitive decision was taken and Arjan's winning plan could be further elaborated. By then, quite a lot of time had passed, and when the project team wanted to initiate construction last spring, they were immediately confronted with a major setback. 'Once we started working out everything in detail, the costs turned out to be significantly higher than initially estimated', Remco says. 'That was an unpleasant surprise. It was a truly frustrating moment for me.' Rik agrees: 'This is not everyday work for any of us, which certainly played a role. You never really know for certain what you're getting into.' This sounds familiar to Arthur too. 'Perhaps we underestimated the complexity initially, which makes me all the more happy that we're able to build what we wanted to.'
Breeding and sharing knowledge across borders
Once the new greenhouse is finished, it will be an ultramodern space where breeders will have optimal facilities for developing even better selections and varieties for the Syngenta tomato variety range. Yet the greenhouse will also play an important role in marketing these varieties. 'Just developing a new type of tomato is not enough', Marie agrees. 'You also have to market it. The greenhouse will play an important role in our communication on our range of varieties. We will have more opportunities for interaction between the various parties and chain parties. We will literally be bringing together the customer, representative and breeder under the same roof, and we will not just be doing this for the Netherlands, but also on an international scale.' According to Arthur, the greenhouse's appeal will not end at the national borders. 'We have already been receiving retailers and visitors from across the world in our current greenhouse. The new greenhouse will only enhance our appeal.'
Rik agrees. 'This will be more than just a greenhouse: it will be a knowledge centre. Visitors will be able to see that Syngenta has a tomato variety for every customer, and that we are prepared to consult with customers about new concepts, such as ones involving packaging or product information. That too forms part of our success. This is truly a project that Syngenta will benefit from in the future.'