If we were to make an analysis of the horticulture industry thirty years from now, we would see that horticulture businesses have morphed into pure production enterprises: organisations driven by consumer preference, in the way of ‘personalised food’. The consumer will be fully in power, and large-scale industry will cater to these consumers, who will ultimately be the ones to determine what the horticulture industry produces.

This was the core message of a lecture given by Pieter Jelle Beers, professor of New Business Models for Agrifood Transition at the HAS University of Applied Sciences and lecturer and senior researcher at the Dutch Research Institute for Transitions. He presented his vision of the future at the official opening of the World Horti Center on 7 March. Beers based his statements on an explorative study of the future of the horticulture industry, which he conducted in collaboration with several market players and government bodies.

Personalised diet

It won’t be long until our health needs determine what we eat. Everyone will be on a personalised diet – ‘personalised food’ – because we will soon know exactly which food types are best suited to our genomes, our genes and our taste. And the food-producing industry will know this too, as well as our health insurer. All this information will soon determine which fruit or vegetables we, as consumers, should be eating. According to Beers, there is no need to wonder if this will happen, because this transition has already been initiated. To prove his point, he refers to the Actify app developed by health insurer Zilveren Kruis: a digital coach that helps people lead more healthy lives. The app also collects a great deal of data about people’s preferences.

Circularity and participation

Later on that afternoon, Frank Hollaar of the Flynth consultancy and accountancy firm provided a more in-depth analysis of P.J. Beers’ vision of the future. Flynth is one of the market players that collaborated on this explorative study. According to Hollaar, circularity will be a criterion for operating in the horticulture industry in 2050, and personalised food will be a criterion for combating waste with regard to both energy and raw materials. Additionally, researchers expect a business model with consumer participation in horticultural production enterprises (e.g. as shareholders) to be inevitable in the future.

Full transparency

The horticulture industry will suffer consequences that many an entrepreneur, from our current perspective, will consider highly unpleasant. A direct consequence is an increase in the number of regulations. Not only will chains become fully transparent; so will cost price composition: from seed to supermarket shelf. Econometry will become more important in the horticulture industry. We will be producing ‘predictively’, and grow only those products for which we are certain to find a buyer. Another question which Hollaar calls to mind is how much space will be left for autonomously operating entrepreneurs. In his vision for the future, this will be rather limited. We will inevitably switch to production horticulture, towards collective or large-scale entrepreneurship with companies that are probably listed on the stock market. Agribusiness will become the standard.

We are destroying the Earth

Another trend addressed by Hollaar – local-for-local in megacities – was wholeheartedly endorsed and discussed in detail at a workshop by Meiny Prins, the director of Priva. Our current behaviour with regard to agriculture and horticulture has to stop, says Prins. Pollution, waste production and the depletion of the planet’s resources are all escalating. We are rapidly destroying the Earth. Currently, 7000 billion dollars is being spent worldwide to support systems that are wrecking our planet. Examples provided by Prins include our dependency on fossil energy sources, industrial farming and palm oil plantations. Prins considers the phasing out of systems like these not only necessary, but inevitable.

Three key trends

Meiny Prins has identified three key trends that will determine our future.
1. Technological breakthroughs: we are currently on the brink of the simultaneous breakthrough of several technologies. It is anticipated that we will be powering all our systems primarily with solar energy in 10 years’ time.
2. Everything that lacks added value will cease to exist: oil and gas companies will become entirely worthless in the near future. This principle will also apply to banks, or even our family doctor.
3. This will be the century of the cities: after the empires in the 19th century and the countries in the 20th, the 21st century will be the century in which cities determine the future of mankind.

Residents demand a clean living environment

More and more people living in these cities will call for an end to pollution and corruption. They too want clean air, a green living environment and fresh, locally produced food. All over the world, we are seeing that urban developers – whether out of necessity or not – are engaged in developments in horticulture production. In China, as well as in Brazil and the Arab Emirates, construction companies, project developers and architects are experimenting with the development of horticulture projects. Sometimes, it is even a pre-condition for the construction of apartment buildings or residential neighbourhoods.

The mega-city as a new ecosystem

Urban planners are starting to realise more and more frequently that a ‘green belt’ surrounding a city centre is necessary for food production purposes. The Dutch horticulture industry is perfectly positioned to help cities with this. Not only can we provide all the necessary products and services, we also have all the knowledge needed to facilitate this. Even stronger: the entire Netherlands is actually such a mega city, surrounded by a ‘green belt’ for food production. Actually, we are the living example of a sustainable urban delta – according to Meiny Prins.

Text: Rob van Mil. Photo: Priva.