"Sustainability is really a theme in France," says Richard van Dijk with HortiNed. The company is focused on the French market, although they do projects in other countries as well. Just before the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, the concrete was poured at a 4 hectare project in Nîmes. Hortined prefers to do the whole project, from greenhouse and heating to screening and gutters.
In the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the pricing in France was under a lot of pressure. There was a great deal of uncertainty on the market for, among others, vegetables, flowers and plants. "France always needs some import to meet the demand, and little goes abroad."
"The French appreciate the French product more than the Dutch appreciate the Dutch product," explains Richard. "French people like to eat food from their own country." The country tries to keep its own market up, by putting only French products in the supermarkets. The pricing is influenced positively by this, and most vegetable growers have been able to have decent results. The flower and ornamental industry has been hit pretty hard, though.
The projects were allowed to continue during the corona crisis, luckily. With the necessary adjustments, forms were required, for instance, and extra obligations had to be met. "Fortunately we were in regions where the virus didn't hit as hard as in other regions." In the cafeteria, everyone had to sit a bit further apart and cleaning was done more often. The projects are large and spacious, and everything is outside, which makes it easier to work further apart. "We did let the local security officer check everything."
A good example of sustainability in the French projects is also the project which HortiNed did in Égletons. HortiNed took care of the greenhouse, the heating and the screening here, in cooperation with French company Divatec. The project is run by two young growers and an experienced one who already runs a project nearby. Tomatoes are grown here, and at the end of 2019 it was time for the first harvest. "At least one, probably two seasons will be grown here, and then the next 4 hectares will be built." There's air treatment units in the greenhouse, that ensure that the customer can efficiently manage the climate and dehumidify.
The greenhouse in Égletons is connected to a waste incineration plant. "Up until now, most of the heat from the plant was not used, but now we can heat the greenhouse with it." There still is a boiler room at the company, but that's only used as back-up, or when the incineration plant is in maintenance. In France, it's quite common to connect greenhouse projects to residual heat, for instance geothermal, waste heat or wood boilers. A project like this, with a waste incineration plant is also not uncommon. "With our heating experts, we can determine what the best way of using the heat is, and prepare and execute this technically. With this, we help clients as much as possible."
HortiNed also recently started with a new project in Brittany. "That wasn't easy, the labor inspection didn't allow the start of the work due to the COVID-19 outbreak. We sat around the table with them and explained the situation, upon which they allowed us to start. That is the advantage of focusing on a certain market, we know the people and where we have to go, which enables us to take care of these kinds of cases more easily. That is good for the customer and for us."
The project in Brittany is also four hectares in size. It is an existing nursery of eight hectares, of which half will be removed by greenhouse demolishing company Olsthoorn. This will be recycled, and four hectares will be built back.