Earlier this year, Delphy was taken over by the Canadian AgriForce. Now that the first of the 'takeover dust' has settled, we take stock of the situation with Jacco van der Wekken, managing director of Delphy.
A new shareholder on board, what's that like? "It takes some getting used to. We are an independent company, and having another foreign shareholder on board does add an extra dimension. During the discussions, we indicated that we would like to continue working together, but an important condition was that we would continue to function as an independent company so that we could continue to sell our knowledge independently. That is also the vision of the new owner. They want Delphy to grow, especially in North America."
This independence is essential because independent advice and thinking are part of the culture at Delphy. "As consultants and researchers, it's simply in our blood to think independently in our client's interests, the grower. That's what it's all about. And that is looked upon with great respect by our new owner."
In concrete terms, this means that the new owner will not sit in the manager's chair. "I will continue to do that together with my colleagues. We do have a lot of contact about strategy, but mainly about North America, where the focus of AgriForce lies. That market wants to import less food and become more self-sufficient, focusing on covered cultivation."
To that end, a research facility is also being set up in North America. "There, we will focus on the crops we are also researching in the Netherlands because we want to replicate how we do it in the Netherlands. We are currently doing a feasibility study to see which location is most suitable for what we want to do. That has to do with climate, availability of skilled people, and investment opportunities."
In light of the many takeovers that have taken place in the sector recently, it is interesting to ask yourself to what extent you can still save as a small consultancy or even a one-man operation. Jacco also asks himself this question from time to time. "Our thinking is: if an advisor does not have a source of knowledge, sooner or later they will be behind the times."
That's why Delphy decided in 2013 to set up those knowledge sources themselves. "The Product Board then expired, so we had to take care of our own knowledge development. We invested a lot in that to stay ahead of new developments."
With the Product Board's expiration, Delphy jumped into the gap for practical knowledge. "We build the bridge between the fundamental knowledge development of the WUR and its application in practice. We do this together with our practical researchers, advisors, growers, and other chain parties."
It is no longer so black-and-white that you, as an advisor, bring the knowledge to the grower, Jacco points out. "When developing new knowledge, the grower is involved in the trials from the outset, together with the adviser. After all, the cultivation companies are getting bigger and bigger and want to continue to lead the way with new knowledge development tailored to their company. As consultant and researcher, you have to be involved in this."
In addition, knowledge is becoming more and more exclusive. "The openness of knowledge is decreasing. And we see that the model in which the grower is increasingly involved in research is becoming more common, not only in the Netherlands but also abroad. For example, we currently have a pepper trial in which various foreign growers are also involved."
This involvement is a must, Jacco believes. "The smartest student in the class asks the most questions. As an entrepreneur, you also need to attract knowledge to yourself, and that is also something I see developing. Good entrepreneurs actually apply this. They are the ones working on that."
Educating new people
Another issue in 2022 is the major shortage of horticulturalists. "The shortage of people who want to work in horticulture is the biggest challenge at the moment. Finding good people with horticultural knowledge."
That's why the Delphy Academy was set up a few years ago to train people from outside horticulture to be researchers, advisers, project leaders, or trainers in horticulture. "In the Delphy Academy, we train people in two to three years to learn 'the green trade'. There are many people outside the sector who do something with biology or plants. Once they discover how beautiful horticulture is, they want to learn more about it."
Every year, some 25 new people start the course. "This provides a new source of people who want to work in horticulture but do not have a background in the sector. With the training we provide, we can bring them into the Silicon Valley of horticulture. A golden formula."
Besides people, computers are playing an increasingly important role in horticulture. You hear more and more about digitalization, but with the enormous supply, it is sometimes difficult to point out the most important developments. Jacco lists three spearheads for us, which play a major role within Delphy Digital.
"We are plant people, we reason based on the plant. So we model plant growth; the grey knowledge is in service of the plant." The first spearhead in this digitization battle is the autonomous cultivation of vegetables. "This means that we control the greenhouse remotely, with the plant as the starting point. We do this in cucumber and tomato."
In ornamental horticulture, Delphy does a lot in chrysanthemum cultivation. "We digitize the cultivation and cultivation planning of chrysanthemums. In doing so, the control of the cultivation is digitalized." The third so-called 'breakthrough project' at Delphy Digital is in fruit cultivation. "The goal is to digitally control fruit cultivation. This ranges from root pruning to spraying at tree level."
Crucial in digitalization and research in general is the collection of data. But even more important is the question: what can you do with that data? "The young generation of data analysts can oversee this playing field. That is why we can now take the next step, to combine digitalization with robotization. That will be an interesting step for the coming years."
That combination is interesting, Jacco indicates because a robot can not only perform actions in the greenhouse but can also collect data itself. "It can do that much more specifically than a climate computer or sensor."
Finally, a word about the future, and particularly about Jacco. "I am and will remain a director of the Delphy Groep bv. I will continue to do so, and I really enjoy doing so. I also like the people here, and especially the independent thinking."
In July, Jacco celebrates his 23rd anniversary with Delphy, but he is not thinking of sitting back just yet. "I started as a civil servant when we were still DLV and part of the government. In 2005 the government sold the company, and now, seventeen years later, we have sold it, and now we are the largest part of a listed company. And we are proud of that."