“It is now the turn of politics”

In this series of columns, Royal FloraHolland gives the floor to Royal FloraHolland’s board and managers, with this time CEO Steven van Schilfgaarde.

“In politics, the issues of the day often prevail, and many are short of memory. Our Minister of Agriculture, Piet Adema, recently spoke at the National Horticultural Congress, calling on greenhouse horticulture to take responsibility for itself. Piet Adema is well-disposed toward the sector, and I know that he works hard for greenhouse horticulture where necessary. But I could not place this statement.”

Greenhouse horticulture is already fully committed to the energy transition and is one of the few sectors to actually achieve its goals. The sector has signed the energy covenant, which includes agreements on energy savings, carbon reduction, and pricing. It is up to the government to keep to the agreements in turn! The government is not following a consistent line by piling on top of the agreements made with hefty fiscal measures. Entrepreneurs cannot possibly work in an unstable business climate in which it is not clear which requirements must be met. In the process, the agreements made are also being called into question by political parties. Like this week’s motion in the Lower House to come up with new scenarios for the abolition of fossil subsidies. If this is acted upon without including the agreements already made on taxes and pricing for energy, many of our companies will run into economic problems.

CO₂ positive
The coalition agreement of December 15, 2021, which is less than two years ago, describes greenhouse horticulture as an industry with great potential to be a leader in energy-efficient and circular production of high-quality products. This was followed by a promise that the government would encourage the transition to renewable energy rather than discourage natural gas. The reason is that greenhouse horticulture can become CO₂ positive. Less than a year later, in November 2022, at the signing of the energy covenant between the cabinet and the sector, Piet Adema, Rob Jetten, and Marnix van Rij praised the entrepreneurial spirit and innovative strength of the sector. Every reason to cherish our sector and to work on improving the international competitive position of floriculture, among others.

This is completely in line with what Marnix van Rij said. According to him, the continued existence of greenhouse horticulture in the Netherlands is not in question. Indeed, according to the State Secretary with taxes in his portfolio, the Netherlands should not only preserve this sector but also further develop it and ensure that it continues to lead the world. That was music to my ears.

Extreme energy taxes
Less than a year later, the sector’s competitiveness is under considerable pressure from rising energy costs. Cabinet policy in the past two years showed a counterproductive increase in the ODE on grid electricity, the SDE++ did not work for sustainable heat, and it still takes a long time to obtain a permit for geothermal energy. In addition, politicians pay little attention to the important role that greenhouse horticulture plays in balancing the electricity grid so that we can all make optimal use of renewable energy. Recently, there has been a political desire to accelerate the reduction of tax benefits for greenhouse horticulture from the use of fossil energy.

There is also something peculiar about this, by the way. According to Martien Visser, professor of energy transition from Groningen, the Netherlands has high “fossil subsidies” because it is measured by the energy tax paid by households in the Netherlands. And that energy tax is extremely high compared to the countries around us. Dutch households pay 45 ct/m3 more than greenhouse companies. If it is equalized, Dutch companies will pay 32 ct/m3 more than in Germany and 42 ct/m3 more than in Belgium. That means a huge deterioration in the competitive position of Dutch horticulturists! There is something else at play in the European context. Because Dutch horticulture is of an exceptional level within the EU, we are hardly taken into account in Brussels. Measures are usually not drafted for the benefit of the frontrunners.

Signed promises
Dutch floriculture companies always manage well. This is evidenced by the fact that they hardly have to repay any corona debt. For a successful energy transition, however, our growers need support and a government policy that does justice to the sector and can be built on. Let politicians put their money where their mouth is and fulfill the signed promises of the (now outgoing) cabinet. What we are asking for is a consistent long-term energy policy. I recently read somewhere that policy should not change with every parliamentary motion. I couldn’t agree more.

And then this: in early October, Wageningen Economic Research published its annual Agrifood Monitor. Horticulture, including floriculture, scored 5.4 on a scale of 7. Consumer appreciation of horticulture and arable farming is the highest of all agrosectors. This includes the extent to which people feel involved in the sectors and whether they are important to them. This is a nice result, which is inconsistent with some media reports. This could give the impression that consumers are turning away from us. It is a nice boost in a pretty difficult period for ornamental plant cultivation.”

Source: Royal FloralHolland