CEO Lely: ‘The Netherlands is becoming increasingly difficult as a home base’

The family business Lely is considering leaving the Netherlands as its home base. In percentage terms, sales in the Netherlands fall in relation to the total. The company is growing rapidly internationally and is active in more than 45 countries. Not only sales, but also how agricultural entrepreneurs are located in our country play a role in the consideration of a possible departure, says CEO André van Troost from Lely.

Van Troost’s statement comes at a striking moment. On Thursday, King Willem-Alexander opened Phase 2 of the Lely Campus in Maassluis in South Holland, an investment of 100 million euros from the company, which it can continue to grow with innovations over the next five years.

I feel there is a lot of cynicism around innovation in politics

André van Troost, CEO of Lely

This traditional Dutch innovative family business was founded in 1948 by the brothers Arij and Cornelis van der Lely. While the existing products such as the Lely Astronaut milking robot and the feeding robots are being made in the first place, various new products are being worked on in the newly built place.

Initially, Lely will focus on the Dutch market, e.g. with Lely Orbiter. Four of this mini-dairy line on the farm are now active in our country. Belgium and Germany can also follow in the coming year.

Lely Exos is also being built here. Ten of these operate in the Netherlands. This automatic summer barn feeding system will be launched on the market at the end of 2023. The company is also building Lely Sphere, a system that reduces nitrogen emissions by up to 70 percent. According to Van Troost, the experience of the twenty companies with this system in the Netherlands is positive.

Politicians do not appreciate this innovation?

‘I feel there is a lot of cynicism around innovation. Every now and then one hears in the House of Representatives shouting that we have been trying to renew ourselves in our country for years while we just can not get any further. Then I immediately think: nitrogen emissions have been reduced by 60 percent over the last thirty years by innovative farmers. Now we suddenly no longer believe in it. I find that difficult. The only way to move forward is to keep innovating. ‘

You are not recognized enough in it?

The Lely sphere has been around for a number of years. Minister of Agriculture Henk Staghouwer was not only here at the opening, he had already visited our company before. Nitrogen Minister Christianne van der Wal has also been on a farm with Lely Sphere. It still feels as if we want to achieve a serious reduction in livestock instead of focusing on innovation.

“Our lobby is to talk to political parties to show our knowledge in innovation. A decline in livestock here leads to an increase elsewhere. In light of the high level of Dutch milk production, this means, among other things, a decline in animal welfare and animal health. ‘

How did Staghouwer react today?

“It is good that he is here. In the light of the current situation, he could also have said no. In itself, I found him reasonably positive by stating that innovation is one of the cornerstones of the livestock farming of the future. All kinds of innovations ‘are possible, such as Lely Sphere. We hope that the government is willing to invest in. The bill for sustainability should not only be for the farmer.’

Are you heading to other countries for the Lely sphere?

‘Lely’s turnover in the Netherlands is less than 10 percent. For the nitrogen challenge, we only look at the Netherlands, although there are now rumors of nitrogen reduction in Belgium and Denmark. The system is also suitable for other markets. We also work on innovations abroad. It is too early to give examples’.

A new campus opened in the US in early June?

»There is less focus on the circulation and emissions and more on large numbers of cows and processing of milk. It is becoming increasingly difficult for farms in the United States to get people. Livestock farmers are in favor of free cow traffic and more data. The milking robot has great potential there, as does the feeding robot. We’re selling what we grew up with here, not Lely Sphere or Orbiter. ‘

Where will the head office be in ten years?

‘Alexander van der Lely, son of one of the founders and chairman of the board, stated today that he occasionally wonders if a place like Holland is good for a family business like Lely. We will still be here in five years. But after that? I do not know. It is currently not easy to run an agricultural business in the Netherlands.

“In addition, an ever smaller share of total sales goes to our own country. Abroad is becoming more important. Lely also needs a lot of engineers for this. You can not open a newspaper, otherwise the peasants will be dragged through the bog. Do you want to work as an engineer for a company whose customer is portrayed in a negative light? It’s really hard for us and it’s getting harder and harder for us. ‘

André van Troost

André van Troost (49) is a former cricketer. He played professional cricket in the United Kingdom and represented the Netherlands in nine matches at the ICC Champions Trophy cricket tournament between 1990 and 1997. In 2003, Van Troost began working as UK Sales Manager at Procter & Gamble. A year later, he became marketing and sales manager for the UK and Benelux. Van Troost switched to Danone in 2009, where he first became business unit manager in the Netherlands for baby food. From 2011 to May 2014, he became global marketing manager for the same product group. Van Troost then switched to Lely. Here he was the first director of international marketing. More than a year later, he became director of international sales. In 2017, he became a board member for customer care, after which he became general manager in December 2019 and succeeded Alexander van der Lely.

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