Tag Archives: Agriculture

Priva: Specialized Agricultural Technology

Applying the German Mittlestand-like approach in the Netherlands

After a long stretch of company visits and sightseeing tours across the Netherlands, students finished the week traveling to De Lier to visit the agricultural tech company Priva. To get to the the company’s headquarters, students ventured through the countryside from The Hague over the course of two hours. Along the way, students observed many of the construction projects occurring in the city. The city has shifted their focus away from constructing new urban areas. Instead, an effort to develop and revitalize current urban areas have taken place and led to construction projects not located on the outskirts of the city. These projects will increase the quality of life in these areas and offer a more attractive location closer to the city center and the main train stations.

In this photo, construction projects take place just outside of the Hague. The city is moving away from creating/developing new urban areas and instead to revitalizing current urban areas.

Arriving to De Lier in the early afternoon, students received a short reprieve to eat a snack before continuing on with the program at Priva’s headquarters. Here, students were met by Dr. Jan Westra who takes the role as a Strategic Business Developer for the company. He explains that Priva was started in 1959 as a family owned agricultural tech company. Even though Priva is small compared to many other businesses, they are still a competitive global company whose core industrial objective is to produce software and hardware to successfully implement greenhouses around the world.

Priva Headquarters, a global company that provides software and hardware to greenhouse farms. The second picture is an overview of their spacious lobby area which includes a refreshment stand as well as a comfortable lounge area.

The company currently employs 320 workers within the Netherlands as well as 130 additional employees abroad. They have headquarters located in most continents including three in North America. A viable comparison to Priva is the German Mittlestand concept. This is a company who has stayed relatively small and has maintained their family-oriented values. They constantly employ interns internationally for research as well as for job specific development leading to future employment. As a result, 80% of Priva employees have received a University education and the company is top 30 for research and development spending in the Netherlands. Additionally, they have also found their own special niche within the agriculture industry becoming one of the top specialist for greenhouse technology.

Priva is active on two markets: Horticulture and Building Management Systems. On the horticulture side, many developments are made in-house by designing and building their own greenhouse systems. They make their systems SMART by integrating things such as heat, carbon dioxide and electricity together. They then continue on with their Building Management Systems. With the technology systems they have already perfected, they take on many projects across the world implementing their systems into existing greenhouses. An example of this implementation is through the UrbanFarmers company located in The Hague that we visited a week earlier. Priva constructed the intricate aquaponics system that UrbanFarmers relies on to yield fresh produce as well as home-grown tilapia to sell to local restaurants.

Not only does Priva help create SMART systems for other companies that are environmentally friendly, but their own headquarters building also takes into account this mindset as well. In De Lier, the Priva headquarter complex sports sustainability through thermal energy storage, moss covered roofs, heat pumps, and clean electricity from Norway. Additionally, they are looking into the BlueRise project which harnesses ocean thermal energy through the difference in temperature in between deep cold water and shallow warm water. As a company, they continue to push for environmentally friendly methods to gather and save energy.

We concluded our trip with a visit to the history room which detailed the background of the company and how it was started in the 1950s. We then moved on to the showroom which is used primarily for displaying new products to potential clients. Finally, we ended in the quality control center where we were able to see the hands on approach the company took to inspect their technological products.

Overall, the students were impressed by the unique niche and Mittlestand-like approach Priva takes, one that focuses on their products and not necessarily just profit for shareholders. As a result, Priva looks set for a long and prosperous future in the agriculture business.

The Hague University sports complex. The building seen is not one big futbol field but instead many different athletic spaces for exercise.
Old-fashioned windmill located in Loosduinen. Majestically standing erect against a stormy backdrop.
Location of Parkpop. Occurred last Sunday. Big music festival with some of the top European bands/artists.
Kerosene heat generator that originally was used in Florida to keep crops from freezing at night. Later, it was found that this releases CO2 which is a key component in growing crops in a greenhouse setting.

-Basil Rodts

Industry and Sustainability

How two German businesses are innovating in the field of Sustainable Agriculture

We spent the first part of our day visiting Rinklin Distribution, a business which ships goods around the Rhein Valley. The business is part of the German Mittelstand, the mid sized, family-owned businesses which make up the brunt of the country’s economic force. Rinklin has been active in the region for decades. Another feature of Mittelstand companies, it has been in the family for multiple generations and represents a long term investment rather than a means to procure a quick profit. Rinklin began as a small, single-man operation hand-delivering goods directly to customers. At the time, the product lineup consisted of a pushcart loaded up with a handful of vegetables and fruits.

Bottles are loaded up to be sorted and returned to the suppliers for cleaning and reuse.

The company has grown substantially, and with 12,000 products and 250 total employees, the warehouse contained both clear organization and a buzzing energy. The interaction between the values of the company and the decisions on the business side was very interesting to note. Rinklin is very involved with each step of the process; this begins by working closely with suppliers to make sure the products are of an acceptable quality and ends with their own systems of ensuring the used materials are properly reused or recycled. For instance, we were shown a large area full of infrastructure built to sort used bottles to be sent back to the suppliers for reuse. A 100,000 Euro investment in a machine that compresses corrugated cardboard for more efficient transportation to recycling centers was framed both in terms of the business cost analysis (the machine paid for itself in about 2 years) and the environmental benefits of increasing the proportion of recycled material.

The loading ramp for the cardboard compressing machine. The 100,000 Euro machine paid itself off in just two years.
The outside of the Rinklin biomart. Everyone taking a brief rest before the trek to Breitenwegerhof farm.
The inside of the Rinklin biomart. Our group had a chance to load up on tasty, organic food after seeing the ins and outs of its production!

Sustainability remains an important tenet of Rinklin, with multiple innovative attempts at reducing the energy dependence on fossil fuels. Cooling the store room for their refrigerated products generates a lot of heat, typically viewed as a waste product. However, Rinklin uses this heat to warm their offices, helping them cut down on their usual heating costs. Also worth noting is the ongoing process of reducing the amount of diesel used by the fleet of delivery trucks. Recently, Rinklin outfitted some of their trucks with photovoltaic solar panels. The energy those panels provide goes towards maintaining a suitable temperature for the refrigerated products, energy that traditionally would have come from burning diesel. It is important to point out that this is an ongoing process, and that the company hopes to eventually have trucks that use renewable electric energy not only for cooling, but also for driving. The market for such vehicles is still trying to find solid footing, but many are hopeful that the electric car market will see a large boost in volume within the next 5 to 10 years.

One of Rinklin’s shipping trucks. This particular truck is part of a new section of their fleet devoted to sustainability. The truck has solar panels on the roof which keep its contents refrigerated while en route.
Photo by: Forest Schweitzer

Lastly, we visited a local farm called Breitenwegerhof. On its surface, it seems very similar to many of the other farms nearby. There are cows, woolly pigs, and over 200 hens, all raised in very humane conditions. The farm also makes its own cheeses and yogurts using the milk from the cows, also producing eggs and various meats. Sampling a few of the cheeses let us confirm that the Breitenwegerhof way of production – keeping everything organic and relying on skilled individual farmers – makes for some delicious and flavorful cheeses. That aside, this farm was particularly interesting because of the financing behind it. They, as well as many other local farms in and around Freiburg, are backed by Regionalwert AG, which means that the farm is owned by over 500 shareholders. This unique set-up helps to support smaller farms with the expensive initial costs of land and other resources. This is important as it helps to bring balance to a practice that can be dominated by large scale, machine-dominated factory farms. Many of the sustainable practices we witnessed at Breitenwegerhof are not employed in factory farms, and so finding economic structures able to support the smaller local farms is a step in the right direction; this is especially important to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as agriculture remains one of the largest contributors to overall emissions.

Luciano addresses the group at the entrance to Breitenwegenhof. Shortly before this picture was taken, a farmer passing by waved and chatted with Luciano. The farming community here is a supportive bunch.
The group getting to know the woolly pigs. They’re quite cute, however their meat is considered a delicacy.

-Keegan Barnes

Green Goes Far

When Community-Supported Agriculture and Idealism Intersect

We began the day with a presentation focused on the development of Garden Cooperative Freiburg, a CSA located in the Rhein Valley which sets as its primary goal the farming of organic produce for stakeholders. Each family is given the same level of influence and voice regardless of how many shares they possess, representing a departure from more conventional shareholder models. We learned how the cooperative began, how it has grown, logistics behind its current operations, and challenges faced along the way.

A slide used in the Garden Cooperative presentation showing their somewhat unique business model. A key feature of this model is the fact that, unlike in a traditional market economy where the farm works for the customers, here the customers work for the farm.

The Garden Cooperative seeks to provide for its members a wide variety of organic produce, and this entails beginning from pure, unhybridized seeds. This is crucial as, even though the latter possess more attractive features for a traditional market setting (pest-resistance, homogeneity, drought resistance), the former are often tastier and more enjoyably consumed. With this in mind, the Cooperative accepts that some crops will fail, and take each failure in stride as an organization. Just as failures are shared, in times of bounty produce is shared evenly amongst members without preference being given to more financially solvent individuals.

Farmers are the most vital element to the success of a farm, and Garden Cooperative Freiburg was very lucky when it came to farming talent. Many youth who grew up in the valley had a wealth of knowledge concerning the maintenance of a farm, but did not think they would ever be able to afford land themselves. These were some of the founding members of the Cooperative, which needed talented and hardworking individuals to get it off of the ground.

Another integral element to the Cooperative’s model is the mandated work which each stakeholder must do on the farm each year. For each share, the shareholder(s) have to volunteer five times throughout the year. If the shareholder is a family with multiple people in it, each individual can fulfill one of those commitments. For instance, if your family has five able-bodied members, they may all head down to the farm one weekend and knock out the entire year’s worth of work then and there. While much of the more skilled labor is still performed by the full-time employees, these volunteers are shown around the area where their food is grown, instructed on how to go about basic tasks and put to work for several hours. Older people who may not be physically capable of completing manual labor may work in the kitchens to cook the communal lunch.

Being competitive in the market has never been an aim of the Garden Cooperative Freiburg. Their business model is inherently placed outside of normal capitalist exchanges, with the entire cycle of production and consumption regulated by a group of private stakeholders who are all held as equals in the eyes of the Cooperative. This model may be difficult to scale up, but it was never intended to. Unlike other solutions we have seen in Germany, this CSA is not looking to solve the world’s problems. They are merely trying to supplement their diets with healthy produce while simultaneously lessening their ecological footprint.

These cubes are comprised of compressed cardboard leftover from incoming product shipments. Since investing in the compactor, Rinklin has increased its recycling capacity from 2 tons to 20 tons of cardboard per week.
One of Rinklin’s shipping trucks. This particular truck is part of a new section of their fleet devoted to sustainability. The truck has solar panels on the roof which keep its contents refrigerated while en route.
Our group sitting down to a meal at Rinklin Distribution. The meal was made using some of the products that Rinklin houses.
The entrance to a refrigerated hallway inside the Rinklin Distribution warehouse. One third of all Rinlin products need to be refrigerated, but that one third accounts for 75% of the company’s total revenue.

-Forest Schweitzer