The fact remains that no one really knows or can sufficiently predict the future! As a matter of fact, since we live in a world of ever increasing uncertainties, risks and challenges we must learn to deal with the changing narratives. In other words, the question is this: What changes? When and how will it unfold? How long will COVID-19 keep us in this grip? Will the virus or new viruses force us to permanently change our way of living, working, travelling, or interacting?

Even now, at the beginning of 2021, much is still unsure. But from the perspective the Dutch Horticulture Sector in 2020, we’ve set some very strategic steps.

Scenario Analysis
At the start of the COVID-19 crisis, the Dutch Horticultural Sector was faced with immense plummeting demand for flowers, the likes of which have been unheard of in the over 100 year history of Dutch Flower Auction systems. Furthermore, vegetable chains directly related to food service were facing near annihilation of their sales.

What are you worried about when you think of in-depth investments and the long-term development of your market?
This led to the formation of a Horticulture Crisis Team, consisting of branch organisation and governments. The short term goal was to focus on securing direct elements in relation to getting business going again and realising government funding for loss and turnover. But there was also a long term focus on realising and forming a separate strategic scenario team. This team was requested to explore possible futures based on existing trends and possible structural impacts of the virus. Their results were presented last November.

"What are you worried about when you think of in-depth investments and the long-term development of your market?" National and international developments that affect horticulture were collected: economic, climatic, political, sociological, demographic. We asked a group of leading entrepreneurs in the horticulture value chain about their biggest concerns, then classified the largest uncertainties and developments with the greatest impact in a matrix.

In the form of a Scenario Analysis, horticulture entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to better orient themselves towards the future. The Coronavirus crisis and the relating barriers in exports that arose as a result were the reason for this. Other situations that caused this need included the threat of no production workers from Eastern Europe being allowed into the country. Such situations can occur again and again during a lockdown.
But here, structural questions arise as well. Dutch horticulture exports more than 90% of its produce to surrounding countries. That’s a higher percentage than meat and dairy. Isn't it time to start producing a little bit closer to consumers? But how do you do that in such a way that you maintain production volume in order to stay efficient? And what investments in technological innovation need to take place to stay in business?

During the process, Deputy Adri Bom of the province of South Holland explained her views on Dutch horticulture in a conversation with Dick Veerman. As far as she is concerned, the area in which Dutch growers sell their products should be limited to 600 - 800 kilometers around the greenhouses. This means, for example, that the Dutch no longer need to supply tomatoes in Warsaw, Milan, Vienna, and Marseille. She also wants to sell Dutch knowledge to entrepreneurs elsewhere the world in order to better serve growing urban populations with fresh products.

The message is clear: horticultural entrepreneurs (from all forms of horticulture and its supply chain) must think more carefully about their future
Assisted by horticultural organisations and researchers, the Horticulture Crisis Team has confronted the growers. The message is clear: horticultural entrepreneurs (from all forms of horticulture and its supply chain) must think more carefully about their future. How the Crisis Team sees the future of horticulture remains unclear; only the main drivers are identified. But the team maintains that the growers have to make their own choices. This is a completely different approach than the way in which Minister Carola Schouten, for instance, deals with farmers in the Netherlands. Schouten has formulated a circular vision for Dutch farmers that they must meet.

Dutch Horticulture, which is largely concentrated in South Holland due to the use of greenhouses, is presented with a series of questions. These mainly serve to help entrepreneurs determine where and how to invest, e.g. where to build their next greenhouse. These questions also force growers to ask themselves which type of consumer they want to target. The challenge then lies in carrying out these choices as smoothly as possible in a world filled with uncertainty and risk of viral infection.

Plenty of opportunities are identified for the short term. But where will your company be in ten years? You know the trends globally. But which ones will prevail in the future? Should you take that organic, local-for-local trend seriously? And how will that take shape? Or will you have to go abroad to produce near Moscow? Will there be a recession? And how long will it last? Where do you get good workers from?

The trick to a Scenario Analyses is: look, look, but don't choose. At least, not immediately. And we have already done the watching, to a certain extent. The last step is up to you, the entrepreneur, and your team. Because you know your company best. Looking closely means knowing what to pay attention to.

Read more at (Dutch).