FRUITful cooperation Ukraine and The Netherlands

In this interview to Ukrainian media group "Technologies and Innivations" "Berry Business" Agricultural Counsellor Reinoud Nuijten tells about cooperation between the Netherands and Ukraine in fruit and berry sector in last years and situation after Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Reinoud Nuijten in Kherson Region 2021
August 2021, Kherson region - in a year this territory will be occupied by Russia

Berry Business: Tell about yourself and your professional carrier. How long have you been working in agrosector and in horticulture (fruit - berry) sector in particular? What are your most noticeable achievements?

Reinoud Nuijten: My experience with the agrisector has been growing steadily throughout my career. Before I started as agricultural counsellorm in Ukraine I worked as a programme manager in the field of international trade at the Centre for the Promotion of Imports (CBI), a development cooperation agency of the Dutch government. In this position I contributed to the promotion of several types of agricultural products from Eastern Europe on the EU markets, most notably wines, fresh fruits & vegetables and processed fruits & vegetables. Although it was not always very easy to do, as Eastern Europe was not really a priority for the Dutch development aid, I enjoyed it very much and it brought me some very interesting projects and people, working together with institutions as the European Commission, IFC and USAID.

Although Ukraine was not even considered eligible for any type of Dutch development aid assistance at the time, I did manage to organise a number of activities here, like various trainings on EU market information and – requirements for the Ukrainian fresh fruits & vegetables sector and studies for both fresh fruits & vegetables and processed fruits & vegetables. Perhaps in this context my most noticeable achievement was the support I facilitated to advice the Ukrainian Berry Association on export marketing, as early as 2015.

How is the horticulture sector developing in the Netherlands? Which areas shows the most dynamic development and are the most advanced?

It is important to mention that horticulture and planting material is one of 9 TOPS sectors for the Dutch economy with the highest export potential. The success of the sector based on the cooperation of Government, business and knowledge institutions. In other words the science serves the needs of business and the government supports the ambitions of the business on international markets. All investments, innovations and achievements in the sector has scientifically proven basis and due to the international presents have global data and application as well as responsibility. The Netherlands invests in knowledge and technologies enormously. We are very small country for many years knows as 2nd largest suppliers of agrifood products in the world. This was possible only with highly intensive and technological production processes like f.e. Dutch greenhouses, vertical farms or wide range of covered horticulture. Having full control over the production process minimize the possible risks and ensured the highest productivity. The knowledge collected for many years by the Dutch sector is also very valuable and appreciated abroad. That is why some time ago the ambitions of the Dutch government switched form global export of agrifood products to export of knowledge and technologies. The current focus is of course on sustainability: preserving resources, protecting nature, reducing food loses, efficient fresh logistics and food processing and of course food security - providing food for countries with rough climate and constantly growing population. This ranges from the varieties resistant to different diseases, pests and climate challenges, to crops with longer shelf life and specific health requirements. It can be crops resistant to soil salinity to potatoes with lower glycemic index which is safe for people with diabetes.

Reinoud Nuijten at the fields of Continental Farmers Group

What technologies are currently driving the Dutch horticultural sector?

I believe that smart farming technologies, robotization, data-driven cultivation, plant sensoring technologies and artificial intelligent is currently in focus for the Dutch horticulture. The data collected worldwide shall work for the benefit of the farmers and result in smart-farming approach from crop management in the fields and greenhouses to storing and logistics. Smart farming is the way to reduce production costs and preserve resources (chemicals, water, energy) and contribute to the healthier environment and safer products. To highlight these achievements this year a new Robotics and Automation Award has been launched by the Dutch Horticultural Entrepreneur Award Foundation.

The horticulture sector in the Netherlands faces significant challenges. Energy prices are skyrocketing and labour shortages are an on-going issue. Energy efficiency is now in focus of the Dutch suppliers of innovation solutions to the companies in the sub-sector of covered horticulture.

Another important field of innovation lays is plant breeding. This is very costly and long process of selecting the best from what the nature can offer to the growers and consumers. For some varieties it takes 10-15 years of hard work of teams of researches and breeders to enjoy the delicious fruit on your plate.

Healthy food is currently a trend worldwide and the Dutch sector offers solution to those who grow these products. Inspired by nature the Dutch companies supply the biological crop protection methods as well as bio stimulators and fertilisers.

How long have Ukraine and the Netherlands been cooperating in the field of horticulture? What are the achievements by now? What is the purpose of cooperation?

I believe the Dutch seeds were known on the territory of Ukraine far before the first Agricultural counsellor arrived at the Embassy in Kyiv. Cooperation between the Netherlands and Ukraine has a long lasting history and traditions. Many Dutch companies are present in Ukraine via their representative offices, traders, dealers, agents and importers. Some of them have JV and operate in Ukraine in the field of horticulture. Quite some Ukrainians studied, worked and had trainings in the Netherlands. Dutch farmers came to Ukraine, live and work here. I think the ties are strong and cooperation is mutually beneficial.

Ukraine as well as the Netherlands has very strong positions on global food market. Ukraine has soil, good climate, favourable geographic location and resources. The Netherlands has technologies, innovations and global trade experience. This is very good match and we can cooperate making stronger each other.

Reinoud Nuijten soild sampling for berry plantation
Soil sampling for soil analysis as part of preparation for berry plantation

What Dutch technologies are already introduced by Ukrainian growers? Tell us more about the essence of these technologies?

In fruit and berry sector I saw a lot of Dutch links when I was travelling around Ukraine. Dutch verieties are widely spread and appreciated but the farmers and consumers. I saw Dutch equipment and technologies in the fields as well as in covered production. Dutch biological pest control is very popular in Ukraine and this is very good for nature and safety of the produce. Dutch stimulators and crop protection methods are also available on Ukrainian market. Dutch companies supply sorting, cooling, freezing lines for the sector as well as a wide range of equipment for storages.

In which areas of horticulture does the Netherlands cooperate most closely with Ukraine? What is the reason for this?

There are sectors in horticulture which are traditionally linked with the Netherlands. This is of course floriculture; the Flower exhibitions in Ukraine gathered the most representatives from the Netherlands. These are suppliers of cut flowers, ornamentals, potted plants and variety of city greening products. Greenhouse sector, which is unfortunately experience now very challenging times not only in Ukraine but also in the Netherland, is mainly based on the Dutch technologies. In Ukraine it is from Dutch greenhouse construction, to equipment, controlling systems and seeds, which are grown there.  This is basically because the Netherlands can offer top quality products that have little alternative on the market.

Reinoud Nuijten heading seminar for SMEs

What is the interest for the Netherlands in Ukraine? What horticultural products do Ukrainian farmers export to the Netherlands the most? What are the terms of export?

The Netherlands is in top 5 EU importers of agrifood products from Ukraine. Of course it is mainly grains and commodities, but berries, fruit and concentrates are high in the list of import. Ukraine has also unique products which are hardly available in the Netherlands like wild blueberries. Of course the good unified quality, certification, substantial volumes for regular shipments and efficient logistics are the requirements for successful export to EU.

On the other level Ukraine offers the Dutch companies the possibility to scale up. The average Dutch farm is up to 100 ha with limited possibility to grow. Ukraine has good soil, diverse climate, efficient logistics and unlimited opportunities for farmers and companies which are ready to deal with local risks and challenges, which we of course understand.  

How did the war in Ukraine affects the Dutch-Ukrainian cooperation and horticultural sector?

The Russian invasion to Ukraine no doubt has significant effect on different spheres of our lives. Millions of refuges from Ukraine arrived to Europe and many of them found shelter in the Netherlands.  Many Dutch companies, HGOs and funds shortly after 24 February started supplies of humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Unfortunately war time affected regular business. Logistics became a big challenge for exporters from both countries. We followed closely the shocking news from Ukraine about shelled farms, destroyed machinery and equipment; many Ukrainian agrarians were in occupation and have big losses. Local farmers showed enormous strength and resilience. Unfortunately war put some projects in Ukraine with participation of Dutch companies on hold, supplies are postponed. At the same time we all realise the importance of Ukrainian export for economic security. I am happy to see that Ukrainian berry producers already stared export.

Fresh Forward varieties
Beeld: ©Uagronl
Fresh Forward varieties in Khmelnytskyi region.

The planting material of which crops does the Netherlands supply the most to Ukraine? What is the reason for this? Which varieties? Tell us a little about them.

The Dutch nurseries and traders supply planting materials of crops which are traditionally grown in Ukraine, sold on a domestic market as well as successfully exported to EU and other countries. These are strawberry, apple, raspberry and sweet cherry. The Dutch varieties of these crops are first tested in demo fields in Ukraine, this work is currently done in Vinnytsia region and near Kyiv. Then the varieties which showed the best results and gained the most interest from future growers are registered and included into the State register of Ukraine.

Rumba and Sonata are most perspective strawberry varieties, they can be grown for fresh market and used for industry. Red apple varieties Gala and Jonagold are very popular in Ukraine and abroad. Natyra is a perspective Dutch apple variety for bio production, with excellent taste and very long shelf life.

Ukraine is traditionally a big raspberry producer and exporter of raspberry fruits to EU. Primocane varieties Imara, Kwanza and Kweli from Advanced Berry Breeding BV getting more and more popular among Ukrainian raspberry growers. Their fruits are big, firm and of an excellent taste. Soon they will become available for Ukrainian market.

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Tell us about the project "Incredible villages of Ukraine". What is its purpose?

The competition Incredible Villages of Ukraine was initiated by AgroPortal. The Netherlands Embassy became the partner of this competition since we believe in potential, importance and contribution of the Ukrainian villages in the preserving of cultural heritage, promotion of tourism and sustainable rural development. We are proud that the villages of last years which received the prizes from the Embassy are very active now and show great example of initiative, responsibility and active civil position.

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Tell us about the events initiated and supported by the embassy. Who are the participants of these events? What is the purpose? Is the mini-conference format effective?

The Embassy supports the initiatives which provide sector with opportunities for meetings, knowledge transfer, exchange of experience and networking. Of course in last years we had to adjust to COVID realities and move on-line. When the off-line events were finally allowed I noticed big hunger for personal contact and meeting. I believe the conferences are good instruments for agrarians especially in such big county as Ukraine. People from far away can travel and meet during events in different regions of the county.

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What, in your opinion, is the future of Ukrainian horticulture?

I am sure that after the victory, and thanks to the recent decision of EU to grant to Ukraine the status of candidate, Ukraine will face an incredible rise and a boost in many sectors of the economy, fruit and berry sector is not an exemption. We all now work for this and Ukraine can always relay on the Netherlands.

Read the interview in Ukrainian here:  pages 14-17