Fewer but bigger growers dominate Dutch production

The Dutch glasshouse production industry continues to concentrate into fewer hands, conference delegates were told.

Pieter Niekus, international business manager for the Dutch agricultural bank Rabobank, told the Tomato Conference that while the production area of edible crops was predicted to remain at 4,500ha, the bank expected to have 30 per cent fewer businesses on its books in 2010 than it had in 2005.

"Smaller companies have problems finding a profit on energy and in being able to innovate," he said.

Faced with increasing energy prices, he said Dutch growers were short of liquidity with which the bank was not always able to help. With the exception of 2003, growers of protected edible crops had lost money every year for the past seven years. He said the rate at which growers were leaving the industry - an average six per cent each year - had accelerated this year.

Niekus predicted interest rates would go up, making the situation harder because Dutch growers were used to working with loans. But he added that Dutch growers were active in looking for solutions, whereas in Spain "growers were waiting for something good to happen".

Meanwhile, Thanet Earth, the new £80m 91ha glasshouse complex on the Isle of Thanet, Kent, which is owned and operated by a consortium of Dutch growers, is the first project in the UK to be backed by Rabobank.

Niekus said that while no English bank would have been willing to finance the project, Rabobank specialised in "the food and agri markets" and knew the sector well. He said the bank had established a department to service projects abroad where there is a Dutch connection. "I think (Thanet Earth) is also an example for English growers and banks that there is a future in larger companies working together."

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