Planti, Horti-Polaris and Strawberry Planet. These names might sound familiar with those familiar to the Chinese horticultural industry. They are examples of modern horticultural companies showing the opportunities of the Chinese industry. The team of the Horti Consult International visited these companies during their annual horti-trip. "There's many opportunities in China and it's a country we should definitely keep an eye on", they concluded.
South Korea, Brazil, Azerbaijan, Poland, Guatemala and Costa Rica. These countries were all visited by the team of Horti Consult International. Once a year, the crop advisors advisers of Horti Consult International take a look in another (greenhouse) horticulture country. This year it was China's turn, where the four 'tures' (nature, adventure, culture and agriculture) are traditionally realised in their very own way.
A short China lesson
Just a little bit about China: it is a large country, everybody knows this, but that 1.4 billion Chinese are living there, is probably not known to everyone. Many Chinese nowadays live spread all over the globe.
During the largest part of history, the distances to other parts of Asia and Europe were too large for large-scale exchange of ideas and knowledge. Because of this, China has been able to develop a unique civilization which developed in a very different way than in the West.
From the fifth century BC, China developed its own philosophy. The ideas of Confucius play an important role in this. The fulfilment of social duties, a clear social hierarchy and maintaining order in society, but also self-development, education and pacifism are central in Chinese philosophy.
By now, China has full contact with the rest of the world. The country is particularly advanced in the field of data collection. Throughout the country, hundreds of millions of cameras can track everything. An estimated 400 million cameras with a lot of facial recognition capabilities. Everyone is registered - there is little privacy, but this also makes China a safe country.
Landed and into the traffic
On Sunday morning, after a flight of 9 hours, the men arrived in Beijing. With 22 million inhabitants, it is one of the largest cities in the country, and the entire world. Beijing is mostly seen as the most important center for government, education and culture in China. The city is also an important hub for various forms of traffic with many railroads and highways in and out of the country.
The largest part of the city consists of neighborhoods which are 'populated' by an enormous number of high flats. The social middle class lives here. To give an impression of the city: to get from the edge to the center you need - certainly if traffic is busy - two hours, and you will be driving between high-rise buildings the entire time. In spite of the hustle and bustle and few traffic regulations, everybody in the city finds their way in the city by car, scooter or as a pedestrian. The peace in traffic is remarkable (no rushing and honking as we know of other countries).
A number of years ago, the smog was very high in Beijing. The government then decided to switch to electric driving, and that can be clearly seen on the streets. For example, the men of Horti Consult almost exclusively saw electric scooters.
Visit to greenhouse project Horti-Polaris
After a visit to the Chinese Wall, it was time to visit local growers. Besides a production company, it is a school for students and growers from the region, for which they receive subsidy.
The company was led by an ambitious manager who had studied in Wageningen. The company looked very neat and ordered.
A warm welcome followed, often waiting at the 'front door', as was the case during later visits to other cultivation companies. In China, you can see there is plenty of cheap labor. Unskilled employees make around 10 to 25 euro per day. The employees can live properly with this, as food in China is very cheap. The company also had good amenities for the employees.
A construction company from the capital invested in this greenhouse horticulture project, where (cherry) tomatoes are grown. The area is 3.3 hectares, built by the Prins Group, after which cultivation was started in 2016.
Now, experiments are also underway with lettuce and lighting and LED lighting. Water that is used, can be cooled.
The production: Robino 31 kg, Maxxis, 150 gram 69 kilo. The production is good, the men observed, but the price is also important to achieve profitability. Liquid natural (gas) is used, which costs 0.5 euro per m3. Electricity 9 cent per kW. Obtaining seed in China is difficult, so mostly seed from Japan is used.
In winter, a total light yield of 1000 joules is possible, in the summer this can go up to 3000 joules. The maximum temperature in the summer is 40 degrees, with 30 degrees at night. In winter, -23 degrees Celsius is the lowest temperature, with -13 during the day.
As the air outside is dry, high pressure humidification is used. This is very necessary to make the plant grow vegetatively. Furthermore, this system also cooled the greenhouse during the warm period. Plant distance in winter is 2.5 and in summer 3.5.
Enough space and water
As the project is also used for training, a classroom was constructed in the greenhouse, but also multiple test spaces for the students. Food is very important for China, so this project was experienced as very positive.
The prosperity and population growth are still continuing, so food is increasingly important in this area. Outdoor cultivation is not enough to meet demand, and so they are looking for high-tech companies to increase the production per m2. The increase of insects and decrease of chemical agents played an important role in this.
Water was no problem in this area as it was situated besides the water reservoir of Beijing. The quality was also good. The water was coming from the mountains north of the city.
The company also had their own purification installation so it was completely self-reliant. On the adjacent fields, there was the option to expand the company to 100 ha. If this project is profitable, the expansion space will be quickly filled.
Glass factory with greenhouse horticulture branch
Another hotspot is the Tiananmen Square, which is 880 meters long and 500 meters wide. On the area of 440,000 m2, at least a million people can gather.
The square isn't easy to enter. Safety comes first. Hand baggage, passport and visa are checked. Personal data and finger prints entered at the airport are also visible on the screen.
Next to the square, you can find the imperial palace. Every morning, the Chinese flag is brought from the palace to the square. With soldiers from the army, air force and navy, this is quite the ceremony. The Chinese people also see this as a special moment.
From the square to a factory, a glass factory to be precise. The reception at the company Planti was again very warm. Originally, it was a state-owned company. The current owner bought the company from the state 30 years ago, and has turned it into a modern glass company producing glass for building cooperations, solar panels, and also a branch for greenhouse horticulture.
At the moment, less glass is being exported to Europe due to import tariffs. The company claims to have the lightest glass, because they can use their own mine with excellent quality of sand. They make glass for greenhouses but also for solar panels. All glass is toughened, but you can vary with the Haze factor. The transparency is reduced with 1% after 10 years with maximal AR coating on both sides.
The lowest Haze factor they can supply is between 5-10 percent, other values are also possible (20-80%). Transparency is 97 to 98% double with AR coating, hemispherically this is 91-92%. The light transmission and hemispheric value is at the lowest Haze factor always a bit higher than at the highest Haze factor.
The oven cannot be turned off
There are 3 types of coating options. Etchings or coatings are incorporated in the glass. A coating with different light spectrum is being researched. Direct sales are possible, but in general through the greenhouse builder.
Glass is being produced 7 days per week, 24 hours per day. The oven cannot be turned off. If this happens, the boiler has to be completely renewed, because the glass will clot to the inside of the boiler. When restarted, the boiler will not function properly because of the glass residue.
The boiler is heated to 1600-1700 degrees, and here the ingredients for the glass are added. After the oven, the glass ends up in a liquid plate on a cooling lane. This cooling is the most important in making the glass. If it cools too quickly, it will quickly break. If it cools too slow, the glass becomes thin and will be stretched out more, causing waves in the glass.
After cooling the glass, it is cut to size. At the end of the line, the glass is manually placed on trestles. These trestles with glass are wrapped or used to apply coating. Coating takes place in another Planti factory (at 10 kilometer distance).
Visiting a very large strawberry grower
Via the Caves of Longmen, 2345 caves and coves with 43 pagodas, 2800 inscriptions and more than 100,000 buddhistic statues, the gentlemen continue their journey to Strawberry Planet.
The strawberry grower in Haisheng was founded in 1996. It is one of the larger players in agricultural China. The company has 6600 ha fruit cultivation and is the largest producer of apple juice in the world. They are now growing strawberries, carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, citrus and have orchards with pears, kiwis, blue berries and more.
Eden View is one of the brands of the company. At the moment, they have also started cultivation in greenhouses. At 4 locations, 2 companies grow strawberries. In Pingliang, tomatoes are grown on 12 hectares. Since 2017, a new location of 37 hectares is in production, intended for cultivation of tomatoes and bell peppers. Organic crop protection and bumblebees are also used.
The planning is to expand to 300 hectares in 5 years. The government particularly stimulates the expansion in areas where employment is limited. The greenhouse horticultural areas are often far removed from the large cities.
Realizing greenhouse horticultural areas is no problem in China. The land belongs to the state, people have little say in policy and the government makes it easy for investors with cheap loans. Moreover, procedures to acquire permits are fast. In China, all land belongs to the government, only buildings are in the possession of the resident/user. The company has a turnover goal of 2 billion in 2020. At all companies, 3000-4000 people are currently employed, 400 at the headquarters.
At the location of the strawberry company, there was first an apple project. They started with the strawberry project and with growing in greenhouses in the company in 2016. The strawberry greenhouses have 4 compartments, and grow more Japanese varieties. These varieties are quite sweet, Chinese are not a fan of sour. In the summer they do grow European varieties, which clearly produce more.
They grow 9 plants per m2. A CO2 dosage of 15 to 20 gram per m2 per hour would be ideal according to the cultivation advisers, although measurements are done in ppm.
After a visit to this company, visits to several other hot spots followed, such as the terracotta army, a famous archaeological find of around 8000 terracotta figures, and Hong Kong, a special governmental region of the People's Republic of China with 9 million inhabitants.
During their trip in Hong Kong, the men of Horti Consult did not notice a lot of the blockades. They did see protest texts on buildings and pavement thrown onto the road. In Hong Kong, the people are afraid to lose their privacy, while the men also noticed that it is less clean than in China. They speak better English than on the Chinese mainland.
China went from 'copying' to 'self developing'
All in all this was a very energizing journey in which the assumed ideas about China must be adjusted. China is a country with many cameras, which contributes to safety. But everybody knows you are always being watched! It is a very modern land in which everything is developed rapidly. Everything is big, such as train stations and such. At times, the group saw hundreds of cranes per city building apartment complexes at a dazzling rate. People are very well trained and very disciplined.
The countryside is thinly populated, there is plenty of space. It was remarkable the men did not see cows, pigs etc. Everything is in sheds. Nature is not abundant with scarce growth. The quantity of precipitation is particularly low in the northern half of the country. The south is a bit warmer and more fertile.
The population mainly lives in the (very large) cities. Everywhere you see nuclear and coal plants. The energy is cheap. The cities are kept clean well, but because of the dense population there is often smog. The larger roads are sprayed before the morning rush hour to prevent dust forming. You see a lot of people with mouth caps.
Everybody is made to work, you see the social underclass working as sweepers, picking up used paper and garbage, but also as assistants at crossroads and in the subway.
Food in China is good and varied (it is quite different from what the Dutch eat at Chinese restaurants). In supermarkets, you see many kinds of vegetables. In comparison with the Netherlands, there is 3 to 4 times more choice. The freshness and quality in the supermarkets looked good.
The men of Horti Consult were guided in their travels by Monique Groeneveld (firstname.lastname@example.org) and want to thank her for her excellent service. In China, a Dutch driving license is not valid, so cruising the country on your own is not going to happen. Traveling by train is perfect, though. With a cruising speed of 300 km per hour, you can travel the country fast. The language is also a large obstacle, the Chinese signs are difficult to read for those that do not know the language, and few of the inhabitants speak anything but their mother tongue.
The growth of this country and the developments in the agricultural and horticultural sector happen at a dazzling speed. The possibilities for greenhouse horticulture are huge. A country to watch with regard to greenhouse horticulture, while 'we' often look at the American side. To make agreements in China, 'trust' must first be established.
China is a rich land, filled with rare metals and coals (no oil), with a lot of knowledge and willpower/discipline, but also a country that went from copying to self developing. In short, a country we cannot get around.