Which Dutch grower will grow more tomatoes with less water in Morocco?

Tholen – If you fly over the right parts of Morocco, you will see greenhouses everywhere. Not as in Western Norway or in other horticulture, where there are large glass surfaces, but more low-tech greenhouses. A demonstration center is currently being built to elevate the growers in Morocco to a higher level.

The center, actually a glass greenhouse of just under 1 hectare, will be located between 20,000 hectares of covered cultivation around Agadir alone. Various Dutch nurseries are involved. Three of them, HortiTech, Horti XS and AGCulture, give us an update.

The demonstration center under construction will be part of the Institute Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II (IAV), an Agadir-based university. dr. Farid Lekjaa from that university is the driving force behind the project. In the center, there will be a focus on water consumption (which must be reduced) and yield per. square meters (to be increased).

When the greenhouse is completed, demonstrations will be held and research and education will take place. It will be institutional, long-term education, but there will also be room for business-to-business training. “This boosts the growers’ current level and future breeders are properly trained,” says Pim van Adrichem of HortiTech.

Dutch involvement
The project, which the necessary images have already appeared on social media for those who have followed closely, has had a fairly long duration, says Pim. “There has been a delay due to, among other things, corona. The ball began to roll again via the Dutch embassy in Rabat. “

WUR has drawn up a terms of reference which set out the principles for research. Subsequently, various offers were obtained from various greenhouse builders, whereby IAV asked HortiTech for help in assessing them for quality and usability. “We have experience with Demokwekerij Westland and the World Horti Center, which enabled us to quickly assess the practicalities of these tenders.”

The Horti XS offering was selected from among the offerings. “We are building the greenhouse with local parties,” says project manager Sebastiaan Hijstek. Construction has started relatively quickly this year, he says.

“On the one hand, the construction is very challenging due to the language and a slightly different culture, but on the other hand, it is also a lot of fun. Construction is progressing steadily. The greenhouse will be equipped with ‘standard’ Dutch techniques: cultivation gutters to reuse the water and climate computers for proper management of irrigation and climate. The project consists of different greenhouses in different sizes, which together make up almost 1 hectare. ”

In addition to the above parties, a number of parties from the Netherlands are also involved. Among them Hoogendoorn, Koppert and LDE: a consortium of the universities of Leiden, Delft and Erasmus University Rotterdam.

More tomatoes with less water
When the greenhouse is ready, according to the schedule in the last quarter of this year, the focus will initially be on fruit crops that use relatively much water. Tomato is the spearhead here, says Pim. “On the one hand because of the number of hectares available with tomato cultivation, on the other hand because of the export opportunities for tomatoes. The studies will mainly focus on more efficient water consumption through water-saving techniques and cultivation strategies that we use in the Netherlands to produce more kilos in the Agadir climate. “

The export options are mentioned. Moroccan product can be found on the shelves all over Europe these days. Still, there are still plenty of challenges. “The market is starting to move in such a way that there will be opportunities for Moroccan products,” says Pim, referring to the energy crisis. “But before that happens, a number of steps must be taken within, for example, cultivation knowledge. The mentioned companies are already active in the market and see the market grow in the near future, but also recognize that there are knowledge challenges. This center must meet these challenges and, where necessary, address these challenges with the help of Dutch parties. ”

A striking feature of the project in a region with many plastic greenhouses is that the new greenhouse being built gets glass on the roof. Even a new type of horticultural glass. Sebastiaan: “One would say that in Agadir, the choice should actually fall on plastic, but for practical reasons we chose glass. The ease of use of glass is especially important here; plastic has to be replaced every few years, glass does not. ”

Pim adds: “With a research center where short and long crops are mixed, you will never find a good time to replace that plastic, which would mean that you would suddenly remove the plastic in the middle of an experiment. In fact, it is not possible. “

Partly clear glass is therefore placed on the greenhouse and partly the new Fountain glass from AGCulture. “This is a float glass with a low iron content, where one side has been treated to create the desired level of diffusion,” says Michiel van Spronsen from Glascom. “Both sides of the glass have an AR coating, so any condensation occurs as a water film that runs down to the gutter. When the glass is condensed, it has a slightly lower diffusion, but a higher light transmission. ” Fountain Glass has been thoroughly tested by WUR. “We believe it offers many opportunities for greenhouses further south. We are curious about the results they will achieve with this. ”

Breeder wanted
The first plants should be in the greenhouse next winter. Anyone who, after reading this story, thinks: ‘Hey, this seems like a nice workplace / challenge’, can sign up. Pim: “As HortiTech, we have been asked by IAV to help put the management team at the center. One of the principles that IAV uses is that they want a Dutch grower who will run the nursery for the next 5 years (and possibly longer).

This breeder receives a staff and staff to perform his task as well as possible. “We support and assist the breeder and his / her team with training and practical advice where needed.” Internationally, HortiTech is already doing the same in several places, including for the fast-growing American breeder AppHarvest, for example. “IAV offers a good Dutch salary, nice housing and a number of other good conditions. If there are breeders who want to go on a big adventure for 5 years, we would love to hear from you! ”

For more information:
Pim van Adrichem

Sebastian Hijstek
Horti XS

Michael van Spronsen

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