How did the Agropole project come about?
A feasibility study carried out a few years ago showed that the agro-industry is an important economic force and a major leverage factor for other industries in the Lower Rhine region and in the province of Limburg. Here, we are in one of the most important European regions for horticulture and floriculture. The Agropole project was developed to further promote this. The project aims to strengthen this sector across borders. We want to build a network in which we can learn from each other and stimulate innovation together.
What is the role of the project partners Agrobusiness Niederrhein e.V., Brightlands Campus Greenport Venlo and the municipality of Venray?
We see ourselves as networkers who facilitate exchange. We try to bring the right people together across borders and stimulate cooperation. We support the German-Dutch partnerships with a total of six vouchers worth € 10,000, to help minimise the financial risks of partners within innovative projects.
What issues are particularly important to horticulturalists on both sides of the border?
As part of the project, we are identifying the challenges for this sector. Very important issues are a well-trained labour force, seasonal workers and technical solutions that support the work. Other issues are the protection of plants and the simultaneous saving of chemicals with regard to the environment. Issues such as digitalisation, the use of sensors, satellites or drones also play an important role in the future of agribusiness. Healthy food and the enrichment of food with healthy substances are high on the agenda. These topics are partly covered by our events. Last year, we organised events on the themes of direct sales, the use of hydrogen as an energy source, biochemical energy and biological recycling.
How do drones play a part in horticulture?
Using drones, crops can be monitored and diseases can be detected at an early stage. Targeted measures can then be applied to specific areas. The evaluation of satellite data can also provide information on moisture levels or the amount of fertiliser in the soil. In this way, the use of fertiliser and water can be reduced.
What are the implications of Corona for this project and for agriculture?
Because of Corona, we can only do most of the activities within the project digitally. But the online events have generally worked out well. The biggest problems occur in our work package “students and pupils”. We want to enthuse young people for the sector, but it is very difficult to reach students in times of lockdown. For the agricultural sector, the consequences are very different: farmers who supplied a lot to the hotel and catering industry before Corona are now experiencing great difficulties. Others have no normal sales channel because garden centres and DIY shops have been closed for a long time. But there are also direct sellers who see an increase in turnover, because many people consider a visit to the farm shop as a kind of outing for the whole family. In addition, more and more people are now emphasising healthy and local food. Instead of eating out or going on holiday, some consumers are spending their money on fresh food, which may also be a bit more expensive than usual.
What role do cultural differences play in German-Dutch cooperation?
We notice that language plays a major role. When we want to bring entrepreneurs together, we always ask ourselves in which language we can best organise an event. Language can also be an obstacle to actual cooperation between entrepreneurs. Especially when it comes to financial or contractual agreements, it is important that everyone understands the same terms. It is striking that Dutch agribusinesses carry out new projects very quickly, while German companies are more thorough in their project planning.