It is now week 26 and we are halfway through the year. A good time to take stock. I am not saying anything new when I say that our beautiful horticultural sector is experiencing turbulent times. It is not only the Ornamental Horticulture sector, but also society and the economy that are facing one challenge after another for many sectors.
In the area of sustainability, we are working together on a necessary energy transition, partly inspired by the European Green Deal. In the meantime, enormous cost increases in energy and gas are occupying our minds on a daily basis and our electricity grid appears to be full in some parts of the Netherlands. Entrepreneurs in the hospitality industry are sometimes forced to close their cafes or restaurants part of the time because they cannot find staff. The nitrogen problem is causing great tension and is stirring up discussion in society. And this is just a small sample of the daily news.

The question is always asked: did politicians, policymakers or entrepreneurs not see this coming? Often, yes, but that does not mean that the problems outlined could have been easily prevented. We live in a complex world, in which we have to deal with far-reaching events such as a coronapandemic and a war in Eastern Europe that was unexpected even by 'experts' and much more intense than the greatest doomsayers had thought. Schiphol and other airports are an example of complex problems, in terms of sustainability and transition on the one hand and direct personnel shortages affecting the primary process on the other. The only way to achieve structural solutions in the short term is to enter into a dialogue with those involved and to look for solutions together, within the existing frameworks. For the medium term, new creative solutions are needed. Entering into dialogue does not make the problem smaller, but it brings solutions closer.

Growth of the clock

There is also plenty of dynamism in Ornamental plant cultivation. Compared to the very good year 2021, it all seems a bit less at first sight. Over the whole of last year, growth was 20%, 17% of which was due to good pricing. In the past six months, after an excellent start, prices were on average 'only' 2% lower than in the first half of 2021, with a 7% lower turnover than last year. There is a difference between flowers and plants. Last month, supply and demand for both houseplants and garden plants were out of balance, resulting in lower prices.

Growers are concerned about the sharp increase in energy costs and high inflation, but the growth of last year has certainly not evaporated. What we also see is that in these uncertain times, against the trend of recent years, the clock has gained ground compared to direct. More than half of the volume is currently sold via the clock. The extra supply on the clock is one of the causes of the extra pressure on our logistics process.

Shortage of logistics staff

But the most important cause is and remains the shortage of logistics staff, which still amounts to more than 150 people a day. And we are not unique in this, which creates great competition on the labour market. We are therefore doing everything we can to improve this. We see, for example, that thanks to our recruitment campaign there is a lot of enthusiasm for 'the nicest morning job in the Netherlands'. But you teach someone to tap a beer faster than you teach them to drive a tractor.

Our instructors work very hard to get all newcomers ready for work as soon as possible. In the summer months, we call on our office staff for extra help in logistics. In addition, we now have people from the Ukraine and Bulgaria working in our logistics with the help of interpreters and we are also looking at whether we can deploy staff from growers, where it is sometimes quieter at the moment. We also have open days for job applicants. Everything to ensure that our customers receive their products on time.

Consultation with customer platforms

We are well aware that if our process falters, there are immediate consequences for the sector. Every minute of delay is one too many. That is why we are looking for solutions and this subject is the first item on the agenda in every consultation with the Council of Members. After all, it is their buyers and their trade that is affected. Our logistics performance was also the main topic in the recent consultation with the customer platforms. Certainly in the case of the clock and hybrid customer platforms.

The question that came up was whether a different rhythm in the sector would offer a solution. We see that not only RFH, but also other flower and plant auctions have to deal with logistical issues. The shortage on the labour market is affecting all players in the sector. It affects growers, buyers, transporters and numerous suppliers. The members of the customer platforms expect RFH to take the lead in finding structural solutions. For example, 'Today for Tomorrow' auctions would provide opportunities to achieve a greater spread in logistics.

We are investigating the feasibility of this at an accelerated pace. In the very short term, we are talking to growers and buyers to see how we can remove obstacles and ensure that everyone knows where they stand. We are convinced that things must be done faster and better. It is important that our process is better aligned with the buyers' processes; this is often not the case, especially in the new logistics. And if it does not do so adequately, we are now looking together at how we can organise it better. This, too, is something that cannot be organised overnight, but we are tackling it in phases. We realise that the ball is in our court. In consultation and cooperation with growers and buyers, we want to investigate what structural solutions are possible. In the meantime, everything is focused on getting our logistics performance in order. We will not start implementing programmes that affect logistics until things are running the way we want. Let's work together to create a strong Sierteelt Nederland BV and put our shoulders to the wheel in co-creation!

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