Global Outlook

For the first time in a decade, Dutch greenhouse acreage has declined by 2.4% to 4870 hectares, compared to about 4990 hectares in 2010 and 2011. According to figures from Statistics Netherland, greenhouse acreage had been steadily growing for over a decade. The number of glasshouse companies has also dropped, from 1205 in 2011, to 1131 last year. In 2000, there were 2511 active horticultural companies in the Netherlands. The data reveals a decline in tomato acreage, slightly down from 2012; however, there has been an increase in the production of vine and cherry tomatoes. Also down is pepper acreage, which has dropped by 50 hectares. While the production of green peppers is constant, and there has been a slight increase in yellow peppers, there is a decline in the production of red peppers. On the positive side of the ledger, there has been a slight increase in strawberry acreage to 290 hectares, which has been attributed to an increase in glass cultivation. The area under glass is now about equal to plastic tunnels. The overall decline in the Dutch horticulture sector can be attributed to the competitiveness of the Spanish industry, an increase in natural gas prices, and government policy to prohibit growers from building new greenhouses that use any fossil fuels by 2015.

A similar trend is evident in the North American market where the economy is in a slowdown. The latest data reveals consumers and retailers are spending less, with higher energy costs contributing to the industry’s slow growth. For many growers the focus has been on retrofitting greenhouses for better heat retention. A significant development in late 2012 was the acquisition of Eurofresh by NatureSweet Ltd, bringing together two of the largest producers of high-quality greenhouse tomatoes in North America. Although greenhouse acreage has increased in Canada and Mexico, the general opinion is that the market will be slower this year, although greenhouse manufacturers are still quoting on new jobs. Only time will tell if growers postpone their decisions to buy or build due to high energy prices, according to one industry report.

In Australia, the trend is similar, but for a different reason. Contributing to the industry’s slowdown is the high dollar, which means Australian greenhouse suppliers are unable to compete with overseas suppliers, and growers are unable to compete with imported fruit and vegetable commodities, much of it grown below Australian standards. As in common with other countries, higher energy, fertiliser and labour costs have had a significant impact on the industry’s growth. Along with many other horticulture sectors, the Australian protected cropping industry has been hit by severe weather events over successive years, with many growers and suppliers still in flood and fire recovery mode.

If there is a ray of sunshine on the protected cropping landscape, it’s China where soilless culture has accelerated, driven by urban pressures and a more affluent and growing middle-class society demanding high-quality, nutritious food. Since 2011, soilless culture acreage in China has expanded from 1250ha to a massive 5200ha. To some extent, the China expansion has been good news for Dutch businesses, which have been able to export their technology and practical ‘know-how’ to this emerging market.

Despite the pessimistic outlook, the greenhouse industry has a promising future; though it may look a little different once we come out the other side of the slowdown.

Steven Carruthers

PH&G March 2013 – Issue 129