Construction of new greenhouse is wonderful team effort
A great place for our tomato breeding
The new tomato greenhouse in Maasland will be fulfilling three wishes in a single building. It will be a state-of-the-art location for breeders to develop new varieties, a greenhouse where the Syngenta varieties can demonstrate their performance in a modern setting, similar to practical horticultural conditions, and a meeting and information centre for customers and other stakeholders.
Creating the greenhouse is a complex yet adventurous undertaking. The project team provides a backstage glimpse!
A brief introduction of the project team
Arjan Bassie, former Gerbera grower, owner and manager of the new greenhouse
Role: Works closely together with the consultancy agency and the contractor, soon responsible for plant care and processing as well as greenhouse exploitation. Soon proud of:
An excellent piece of work, with great appeal for Syngenta.
Remco Roeland, R&D operations manager, runs three Syngenta breeding stations in the Netherlands
Role: Project manager and budget controller. Soon proud of:
The fact that my team role enables me to help create something great for our people.
Rik Lootens, portfolio manager, fulfils a key role in the breeding-marketing-seed production triangle
Role: Optimising the use of the glasshouse in order to allow a great interaction between growers and breeders. Soon proud of:
Being on the team that is taking care of this job.
Arthur van Marrewijk, product development specialist
Role: provides technical advice on the new greenhouse design, watching over both breeders and marketing/sales departments interests. Soon proud of:
Once the first plants start growing. And even more proud if everything works according to plan!
Marie Legendre, marketing operations lead
Role: makes sure the reception area has a great impact with a valuable story not just for customers, but for any visitor. Internal and external project communication. Soon proud of:
The unique result of this unique process. Also the commitment, passion and perseverance of this team.
When I walk in, Arjan, Remco, Arthur and Rik are busy discussing the design of the processing space in the future greenhouse. Terms like rollerways, destackers, harvest vehicles and weighing units bounce around. A plan of the greenhouse is projected on the wall of the former canteen. Together with Marie, the four make up the project team for the new greenhouse being constructed in Maasland. Since mid 2018, they have been approaching every detail from various perspectives, intending to ensure that Syngenta will have a state-of-the-art greenhouse for the Tomato product group by 2020.
Major step towards high-tech greenhousing
'We were actually quite satisfied with the greenhouse we already had', says Arthur. 'Over the past nine years, our experiences with demonstrating new breeds and maintaining customer contacts were fine, but we simply needed to modernise. We needed a place where we could grow our breeds in the same way as in practice and demonstrate this to customers. In future, growers will be able to adopt everything they see here just as it is in their own greenhouse.' The new greenhouse is 7 metres tall and can accommodate growing with or without lighting. The current greenhouse is actually too low for this. The new greenhouse will have diffused glass with very high light transmission. Conditions will be uniform throughout the greenhouse, so breeders will not need to repeat experiments as often and the space can be used more efficiently.
The reception area will triple in size, with enough workspaces for the breeders. In future, they will have all their equipment and experiments in one place. 'The greenhouse will be hosting over 1000 varieties', says Rik. The design of the experimentation department, model department, processing space, laboratories and reception area will all be incorporating the latest guidelines for growing, ergonomics and logistics, while also adhering to all applicable phytosanitary regulations. This entails such measures as fitting the entire greenhouse with gauze and installing perfect disinfection facilities. 'With this greenhouse, we will truly be entering the age of high-tech greenhouses', Rik beams.
Moving forward and working together with the most modern growers
The ease and pleasure with which the project team discusses the new greenhouse almost makes you forget that the operation is an extremely complex one. 'It already starts with trying to convince management', Rik starts off. 'You can come up with wonderful plans to realise the wishes and ideas of growers and marketing colleagues, but how do you translate those into arguments that appeal to management? It takes quite a bit of lobbying. And of course there are financial aspects as well. You're engaging in a long-term commitment, and it involves a lot of money.' Despite all this, the benefits of the new greenhouse were amply sufficient for the plan to get the go-ahead.
According to Marie, the new greenhouse is more than just a new calling card. 'With the new greenhouse, we are demonstrating Syngenta's willingness to invest in the development of top-quality varieties that perform well. Not only from an agronomic perspective but also with regard to taste.' Remco adds: 'Better products lead to higher sales. And this way, we can also show that Syngenta is a leader in this crop, that we are well acquainted with modern growing systems and that we are able to follow and work together with the most modern growers. We are of course an advanced company.'
Different than a regular greenhouse concept
In realising the greenhouse, the project was structured so that grower Arjan Bassie is building the new greenhouse at his own cost and risk to subsequently manage, with Syngenta leasing the facilities from him. Arjan will also be responsible for growing and selling the produce. All of the produce will be processed and sold in the normal manner. Arjan will be running the greenhouse like a normal business as much as possible; he is not employed directly by Syngenta.
Finding a suitable grower and suitable location was no easy task. 'I spoke with at least 30 potential candidates before we found two who were suitable', Arthur says. 'I first looked around in my own network, without any real result. We subsequently hired a broker, since they are better acquainted with suitable people and locations in the area.' Rik adds: 'The concept we wanted to develop is different than a regular greenhouse. It wasn't always easy to explain that and motivate people for it. This was quite the opposite with Arjan: he's good at engaging with us. What also makes a difference is that, in future, he will only have to deal with this greenhouse. He will be able to concentrate fully on what's required there. Other potential candidates often had other activities on the side.'
Full of positive energy despite setback
Before Arjan was selected, he and another candidate had to submit an offer and detail an action plan. In doing so, they could refer to a schedule of requirements drawn up by Remco. In April 2019, the definitive decision was taken and Arjan's winning plan could be further elaborated. By then, quite a lot of time had passed, and when the project team wanted to initiate construction last spring, they were immediately confronted with a major setback. 'Once we started working out everything in detail, the costs turned out to be significantly higher than initially estimated', Remco says. 'That was an unpleasant surprise. It was a truly frustrating moment for me.' Rik agrees: 'This is not everyday work for any of us, which certainly played a role. You never really know for certain what you're getting into.' This sounds familiar to Arthur too. 'Perhaps we underestimated the complexity initially, which makes me all the more happy that we're able to build what we wanted to.'
Luckily for Arjan, not all the details had been finalised in his action plan: 'I really worried quite a bit about the financing during that period, but everything had not been set in stone yet. We were able to find wriggle room and adapt in order to compensate for the financial setbacks. But it did also mean that I had to take a number of emergency measures.' According to Arjan, he was able to exhibit this resilience thanks to his drawing a lot of energy from the project. 'I never would have expected to become involved in something like this. I made a total switch. I had just left a partnership and was busy pondering my future. I already had advanced plans for setting up a new Gerbera greenhouse, when this came along. I really enjoy investigating all sorts of things and discussing this with the project team. The entire process of construction and design gives me a lot of positive energy.'
Great team works well together
The members of the project team were brought together based on their various expertises. For all four Syngenta colleagues, the job is an 'extra' one, but that never prevented them from working well together. 'That's right', says Arthur, 'we work well together. This is a great team. Everyone really handles their role well. This kind of teamwork really motivates me and gives me energy.' The same goes for Remco. He has always made it his priority that he is on the team on behalf of the breeders. 'It really motivates me that by doing this job, I will be making it easier for our breeders to do their job even better in future. We constantly consulted them during the important planning phases.' According to Rik, what also counts is that all of the team members have a strong link with practice. 'Some have been growers themselves, while others have tomato growers among their relatives or friends. And all of us have been working in our specialist field for at least a decade.' Marie joined the team a little later. 'I did have to find my place in the team, but soon realised that the atmosphere was good. It's all very pragmatic and very pleasant.'
Breeding and sharing knowledge across borders
Once the new greenhouse is finished, it will be an ultramodern space where breeders will have optimal facilities for developing even better selections and varieties for the Syngenta tomato variety range. Yet the greenhouse will also play an important role in marketing these varieties. 'Just developing a new type of tomato is not enough', Marie agrees. 'You also have to market it. The greenhouse will play an important role in our communication on our range of varieties. We will have more opportunities for interaction between the various parties and chain parties. We will literally be bringing together the customer, representative and breeder under the same roof, and we will not just be doing this for the Netherlands, but also on an international scale.' According to Arthur, the greenhouse's appeal will not end at the national borders. 'We have already been receiving retailers and visitors from across the world in our current greenhouse. The new greenhouse will only enhance our appeal.'
Rik agrees. 'This will be more than just a greenhouse: it will be a knowledge centre. Visitors will be able to see that Syngenta has a tomato variety for every customer, and that we are prepared to consult with customers about new concepts, such as ones involving packaging or product information. That too forms part of our success. This is truly a project that Syngenta will benefit from in future.'
Text written by: Anko Postma, Augustus 2019
The vision of Sylvain Bontems, breeding team lead tomato
The aim of a breeder’s work is creating plants that are suited to their growing conditions. A plant suited to its environment produces a good yield and high-quality fruit, meeting the requirements of both the grower and the consumer.
To achieve this goal, the breeder improves and creates new parent lines, a complex task which results in the presentation of several new hybrids each year.
Then comes the exciting moment when we get to evaluate these hybrids and decide which ones will be next year’s potential blockbusters! To evaluate a hybrid, it must be grown in conditions that test both its performance and its limits. The quality of the growing conditions and thus the quality of the greenhouse is paramount. I am therefore delighted to see our greenhouse evolve into a high-performance area at the cutting edge of technology. It will enable us to make relevant decisions based on reliable data, because the growing conditions will be very close to conditions in practice. When comparing large numbers of new varieties, a crucial factor is the uniformity of the greenhouse. This factor was rightly taken into account when preparing our specifications document.
The tomato market is highly diversified. We are developing many varieties of tomatoes: with large fruit or small fruit, with fruit that is harvested individually or in bunches, with fruit of different colours and with different growing conditions: with or without artificial light, for spring or autumn crops, and so on. It is an enormous challenge setting up a greenhouse that allows us to grow all of these varieties at once. With its modular structure and dedicated areas for growing under artificial light, the new greenhouse seems to be very promising. The moment of truth – the first crop – is rapidly approaching. While there will undoubtedly be adjustments to be made, I am feeling very confident. This greenhouse will be a fantastic and an essential component of our breeding program. We will be able to increase our capacity of delivering winning products!
Thanks to the expertise of the project team and particularly our partner Arjan Bassie, who will lead the growing program, this project should be a huge success.
The new demo in a few numbers...
- 14.000 m2 for the crops: 4.480 m2 under lighting, 9.520 m2 without
- 1.500 m2 growing space for marketing purposes
- 300 m2 reception area for customers, relations and colleagues
Take a look at the progress!
Arjan Bassie, owner and manager of the new greenhouse follows the construction step by step. Every day from the ground and sometimes from the sky. Let him take us for a short journey in this nice drone shoot!