Moving forward together

Leon Mur


More and more often, I’m hearing the words: chain integration, especially forward, but also backward. The Dutch horticulture sector should become more multifunctional so that it can answer complicated questions. What can you do for me? “Everything,” should be the grower’s answer, say many visionaries. In that idealised scenario, the grower will soon not only produce a crop, he will also know how a particular substance can be extracted from plant-based materials.

This subject recently came up for discussion again during a meeting with prominent speakers from the horticulture sector. The grower that integrates forward will have eternal success in the future. And this isn’t a pipe dream. Chain integration even bears the marks of a model from the distant past. Didn’t the growers once sell their products directly to the end customer without the intervention of an auction? People weren’t yet interested in scale increases.

Of course, I understand the arguments made by the advocates of chain integration. Relationships in the Dutch horticulture sector have always been a bit skewed. The prevailing view is still that the grower ends up the loser and the retailer garners the lion’s share of the profits. By actually maintaining control over more steps in the process, horticulturalists can strengthen the basis of the income model. An interesting idea, but I doubt whether it would work like that in practice.

Just as the shoemaker must stick to what he’s good at, the grower must also limit himself to cultivating crops. And the plant breeder, who focuses on selecting new breeds, must do likewise. Whoever broadens his horizons too much loses his overview and control over the total chain. Because the scope is then too broad. A grower who also wants to start harvesting plant extracts must make an enormous investment, comply with certification requirements and gather so much knowledge that the original business will suffer.

In my opinion, there is only one way forward for the Dutch horticulture sector: not by removing links from the chain and launching a related business themselves, but by specialising. That’s what the sector should be investing in. Make the product unique, keep innovating, think ahead and at the same time gather together a chain of reliable and high-quality partners so that you can work together to create a robust, contiguous chain with existing and new markets. Forward together, that always works in the longer term.