In China, more and more commercial capital is encouraged to enter agriculture and promote the reform on the supply end of agriculture. What is the current situation of protected vegetables in China? How will the future develop?
Hortidaily invited Mr. Fulco Wijdooge, general manager of Ridder China, from the Netherlands, and Mr. Liu Xiangwei, general manager of Hongfu Agriculture, to share their thoughts on the matter.
Hortidaily: Many greenhouses have been built in China in recent years. What do you think of the development of Horticulture vegetables in China?
Liu Xiangwei, Hongfu Agriculture: "Compared to traditional agriculture, the advantages of high-tech greenhouses are high-risk resistance, high productivity, and high-quality products. Relatively speaking, the product price is also higher. In the future, with the progress of technology and the further popularization of protected agriculture, consumers' demand for healthy food will increase, and there will be more crops from greenhouses on the market. However, in the long run, only when the operating costs are further reduced and more people can afford and be willing to buy can the real, sustainable development of horticulture be realized."
Fulco, Ridder China: "With the growth of global population and the decrease of available arable land, everyone needs to re-examine the access to food. The improvement of consumption level and awareness of health will also promote development. Besides tomatoes, blueberries and strawberries are becoming more and more common. How to reduce labor costs, strengthen automation, enhance land utilization, and improve yield and quality is what growers need to think about. This includes the need for growers to invest in facilities and equipment and generate a benign return on investment."
"At the same time, knowledge sharing with consumers also needs to be strengthened. Under the correct management, the products planted in greenhouses use fewer chemicals, and there is no soil and water pollution, which is more friendly to the environment. Consumers need to recognize and understand these benefits and realize that products grown in greenhouses and products grown from soil have the same taste and are even better and healthier, thus promoting the development of consumption."
Hortidaily: What factors should be considered in the operation of a sustainable modern agricultural park?
Liu Xiangwei, Hongfu Agriculture: "There are many policies in China to support the development of protected agriculture. While seeing the favorable policies, it is necessary to analyze the operability of the project more rationally, including site selection, energy, crops, operation mode, and capital cost. Policies are fluctuating and must have a long-term development vision. For example, our agri-park in Ulanqab uses the waste heat from metallurgical plants, but due to the high uncertainty of this policy energy, it is also equipped with a full set of boilers. You can't rely on a single energy source alone. If you encounter policy changes, the impact will be very great. Yunnan's natural climate is very superior, and the corresponding agricultural policy support may be less than in other provinces. Each enterprise has different choices according to its own strategic goals in the development process."
"Energy is an unavoidable topic, and the climatic conditions where the park is located will directly affect the output and production costs. In Northern China, it is very high that the tomato yield can reach 18kg/m2, and this yield will even lose the taste and flavor of some tomatoes. But in Yunnan, the output can reach about 30kg/m2. When selecting the site, we should fully consider the local natural conditions and maximize the use of natural resources. Take our greenhouse in Inner Mongolia as an example. The natural light conditions in Inner Mongolia are good, but it is very cold in winter, so we focus on heat preservation during greenhouse construction. One of the three screens in the greenhouse is a quilt, which is the first one in China to use quilts in a large greenhouse. The quilt enhances the warmth, but it is difficult to fold, which will block part of the light and may affect the yield. This requires finding a balance between energy saving and greenhouse harvest, and finally, the greenhouse can be profitable and sustainable."
Fulco, Ridder China: "Sustainability is very important, and the market changes rapidly, which is a challenge for everyone. The park needs the right team, the right facilities and equipment solutions, and access to the market. As an equipment supplier, we need to solve problems with customers to ensure that the requirements are always met. The government of China is very supportive of the development of protected agriculture and has given a lot of financial support to the development of related industries. Only by helping customers achieve a good return on investment can we achieve a positive cycle."
Hortidaily: Most protected horticulture industries in China use Dutch technology for reference. How to make these technologies better serve the China market?
Liu Xiangwei, Hongfu Agriculture: "There are deviations in market cognition. Both the agri-parks and suppliers need to communicate more and better understand each other's needs. The quality of technicians in the park is crucial, and they need to have the ability to distinguish and know what their park needs. Suppliers also need to have the ability to distinguish. When Party A's demand is found to be incorrect, timely guidance is a more positive cooperative relationship. Due to the distance, time, and personnel, sometimes overseas suppliers will be surprised that China has done so finely, which is inconsistent with their traditional cognitive impression."
Fulco, Ridder China: "Compared with previous years, the China market has undergone great changes. The knowledge and ability of growers are strengthening, and services are becoming more and more important. We need to keep a lot of communication with our customers. In this process, we are constantly learning ourselves. No one can guarantee 100% accuracy, but through continuous communication and learning, we can continue to improve. Dutch horticulture technologies are very good but also very expensive. We need to know what customers lack, what to achieve, how to help them succeed, and we need to trust each other. That's most important."
"Localization is very important, and it is difficult for many companies to achieve transformation in this process. Ridder is optimistic about the China market and is committed to long-term development in China, which is why we have invested a lot of money and time in China. Our localization team includes botanists, cultivation consultants, and engineers who come from Wageningen, the famous Dutch agricultural university, Delphy, the greenhouse consulting agency, and other institutions. At Ridder, we provide not a single product but a complete solution and service."
Hortidaily: What do you think of the application of the labor system in China agri-parks?
Fulco, Ridder China: "Many modern greenhouses in China are equipped with labor management systems, but most of them are idle because of lack of correct guidance. People always need time and help to understand how to use it and what data needs to be input into the system before adapting to a new system. When people learn to use it correctly, the improvement in management efficiency is very significant. Take our customers in Shanghai from the agriculture industry as an example. At first, they had 41 workers, and after half a year, they were reduced to 27. A good system can get twice the result with half the effort."
Liu Xiangwei, Hongfu Agriculture: "Protected agriculture in China is still in its infancy, and the application rate of the labor system is not high. As far as Hongfu is concerned, on the one hand, we are testing mature software on the market, and we are also studying our own system. For an intelligent labor system, a more practical factor is to consider the operability of greenhouse workers. Most greenhouse workers are not used to smartphones because of their limited education. Modern electronic intelligence systems are not easy for them."
Hortidaily: How does Hongfu Agriculture build its own brand? What is the development route?
Liu Xiangwei, Hongfu Agriculture: "A stable and continuous supply of high-quality products is a key factor in building a brand. Crops are significantly affected by seasonality, and it is difficult to achieve continuous production all year round, even in the greenhouse. Take Hongfu's Daxing Park, for example, the production season is concentrated from December to July, and the rest supply needs to be supplemented from other places. Hongfu has parks in different regions, which can realize a continuous, uninterrupted supply, and it is easier to expand channels and build brands."
"Our goal is to let more people eat high-quality tomatoes. Hongfu's products are sold online and offline. From the perspective of profit, there is more room for profit offline. Besides our own products, we also buy tomatoes from other growers. However, small growers lack corresponding technical control and quality control, so they need the support of our technicians. In this way, we can get more products that meet our quality requirements, accelerate business expansion, promote the spread of technology, and promote the progress of the protected horticulture industry in China."