De Britse landbouwminister bij chrysantenbedrijf Deliflor in Naaldwijk. - Foto: Defra

British minister learns in the Dutch greenhouse

Britain’s Environment, Rural and Food Minister (Devra) Ranil Jayawardena was appointed for just a few days when he made a business trip to Westland and Wageningen at the beginning of this month. He sees this as an example for the future of indoor gardening in his country. But that journey and the Dutch example went very poorly with the British gardeners themselves. “Why look across the North Sea when you can see the same thing 30 kilometers from London,” they say.

Greenhouses with artificial intelligence and robots

Jayawardena came to our country “to learn more about high-tech greenhouses and vertical farming”. He looked around the Institute for Robotics at Wageningen University and visited a greenhouse company that uses artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, renewable energy and hydroponic farming systems.

“The Netherlands is a global leader in this field and I would like to know how we can use this in our country to develop the potential of British horticulture. Greenhouse cultivation, a form of gardening in a controlled environment, has many advantages for the economy, food supply and sustainability. But the sector Now it represents no more than 10% of English gardening. This means that we grow only 25% of cucumbers and 17% of tomatoes in our country.”

Immediately nearly 20 million euros support automation

Jayawardena has already pledged more than 19 million euros in support for automation and robotics. The Research and Innovation Fund will add the same amount on top of that. “We can increase local production of fruits and vegetables, which is why I bring in expert advice and financing for new projects. Technology offers tremendous opportunities to make agriculture and gardening greener and more productive.” At the same time, he wants to bring together a group of experts from the same sector to make recommendations for further government support.

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“We’ve also been applying the technologies for decades”

British gardeners themselves do not understand why the minister had to go to Holland. Secretary Lee Styles of the Lea Valley Growers Association, which represents 78 farmers with a total of 450 hectares of greenhouses, told Horticulture Week: “We are certainly far from the Dutch here. We are only 20 miles from Downing Street so he could have saved himself on that trip. We’ve also used most of the technologies he’s seen in the Netherlands for decades. On top of that, the number of farmers in the Netherlands has halved in the past 15 years. So the business model doesn’t seem to be working well.”

Fellow Richard Hopkins of the West Sussex Growers Association agrees: “We would like to give the Minister a tour for our members. We represent farmers with a total turnover of around €1.2 billion who employ 10,000 people during the high season. You will find some of the freshest and most innovative produce at your doorstep.”

Martin Rattigat from Thanet Earth, the massive greenhouse complex in Kent that has been built with a lot of Dutch knowledge, experience and investment, concludes: “We are delighted to show the Minister our complex, the largest high-tech greenhouse facility in the whole of the UK.”

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