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  • Under the project name NERCPA, a modern greenhouse horticulture project has been constructed on Chongming Island, off the coast of Shanghai. Several Dutch suppliers are involved in the project. Priva is responsible for coordination, in collaboration with local partner Dushi Green. Those directly involved outline their vision of the ambitious project that was opened in early April. 

    Justin Schoemaker works at Priva's Expert Centre and is the project manager for NERCPA, which stands for National Engineering Research Center of Protected Agriculture. He reveals that there was quite a lengthy run-up phase prior to the implementation of the project. After previous collaboration plans at another location in China did not receive the green light, work began in May 2012 on the project that has now been completed.

    Ambitions

    The complex consists of a 2 ha glass greenhouse, equipped entirely to Dutch standards. "It is a national project, which makes it particularly important that the greenhouse, which is the first in China to have an ATES system, should be of superior quality. The eyes of all China will be on this horticultural project," says Schoemaker. 

    Several Dutch companies were involved in the project. The greenhouse was designed by the BOM group, but built by Dushi Green. Furthermore, everything was supplied by Dutch partners: Voshol took care of the installation, Installect designed the ATES (SIGEE from Shanghai carried out the boring), Arend-Sosef was responsible for the irrigation and Codema for the internal pump circuits.

    "The intention behind NERCPA is to prove that the use of modern and sustainable technologies can increase the production of tomatoes, among other things, while consuming less energy and water," says Schoemaker, summarising the ambitions.

     

    Unique project

    That Priva is serious about making the most of the opportunities in the Chinese market is proven by the involvement of China expert Thera Rohling. She takes care of communication with the Chinese partners on behalf of Priva and was responsible, among other things, for overseeing the acquisition of the necessary permits in the run-up to the project. Both Priva employees describe NERCPA as a unique project. "Setting up a horticultural project in China according to Dutch standards is no easy task," emphasises Schoemaker. The goal is to put in place one of the most modern horticultural projects in China.

     Sustainability and food safety are high priorities for NERCPA. The project is sustainable because it makes use of, among other things, Priva's air treatment in combination with geothermal energy, or ATES: Aquifer Thermal Energy Storage. In this way, less energy will be consumed for cooling and heating the greenhouse.

    Training centre

    Rohling emphasises that NERCPA will also act as a training centre, where customers can learn how to achieve energy-efficient cultivation through the optimum use of modern facilities and the latest products and methods.

     

  • "The growers' level of knowledge needs to be raised," she says. "That was the starting point, right from the beginning. It is no coincidence that the project emerged from the special relationship between Priva and SAAS: Shanghai Academy for Agricultural Sciences." 

    Schoemaker explains that in the past China paid little attention to increasing vegetable production levels. "This was in contrast to flowers. For vegetables, there were only a large number of small demonstration centres; with NERCPA we tackled that very effectively straightaway. That is going to bear fruit in tomato cultivation, which in China still takes place mainly in simple plastic tunnels, or traditional solar greenhouses. The increasing attention to residues and food safety means that there is a lot to gain in a short space of time."

    Success will, of course, be determined in part by the adaptability and the motivation of the Chinese growers themselves. "There must be an understanding that the initial costs will result in long-term benefits," says Rohling. "Our task is to prove to them that this greenhouse has added value, by enabling them to make the most of its possibilities."

    Implementing knowledge

    The collaboration with the Dutch consortium is proceeding to the full satisfaction of Mr. Zhou Qiang, vice president of Dushi Green and director of the NERCPA project. He quickly reels off a long list of names of Dutch horticultural suppliers with whom he is in contact. "We want to benefit from the vast knowledge of the Dutch greenhouse horticulture industry and implement this knowledge in the Chinese horticulture sector, initially within the NERCPA project."

     

    For China, training and education are essential for any new project. "We do not yet have access to high-quality horticultural training," admits Zhou. "Horticultural projects in our country need above all to make a profit and do not pay sufficient attention to technically trained employees, or to their further training. Universities, on the other hand, are mainly scientifically oriented and do not have a connection to the commercial companies."

    The NERCPA director says that the training centre function is essential. "We also offer technical support to our customers. A regular exchange of technical knowledge and experience is of great importance for the development of greenhouse horticulture in China."

    Efficient production

    Mr. Zhou Qiang emphasises that they are actively cooperating with the authorities in China. "In this way, we can guarantee that the technical training we offer here in Chongming will benefit the horticulture industry throughout the country. We hope that we can count on the support of our Dutch partners in this area as well."

    He sees the switchover from field cultivation to greenhouses as the most important challenge facing the Chinese horticulture industry. "Quality, production and food safety are forcing us to take that step. China has a huge population, but has relatively little land available for agriculture and horticulture. This means that an efficient method of vegetable production is required. I hope that NERCPA can make a significant contribution to that, in collaboration with our Dutch partners, and in particular Priva."

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