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Growers using greenhouses struggle under high energy prices

Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash

The energy crisis is weighing heavily on people who use greenhouses to professionally grow plants, be those flowers, houseplants or other types of horticulture, according to reporting from the Flemish infocentre for agriculture and horticulture (VILT).

Many such growers in Flanders are preparing to cut back on their energy use or shorten their growing season.

“We have no choice but to stop growing peppers a fortnight early, but in the meantime the bills have to be paid, of course,” one of those growers told VILT.

Didier Algoet cultivates peppers in Duffel.

“What is happening now is beyond our control and is the result of what is happening on the world market,” Algoet said.

While Algoet said that there are always highs and lows when it comes to business in agriculture and horticulture, the current energy crisis is unprecedented.

Indeed the prices for energy in Belgium have reached historically high levels – a Belgian household that took variable electricity and natural gas contracts in April 2021 may see their annual electricity bill increase by €116, while the natural gas bill for a variable contract could be just under €600 more expensive compared to before the coronavirus pandemic.

Horticulturalists today are having to pay around 20 percent more for natural gas, meaning their systems for converting gas into electricity aren’t giving them sufficient returns.

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“We can normally cope with small fluctuations, but now there is no point at all in producing electricity,” one tomato grower from Sint-Katelijne-Waver told VILT.

Algoet said he wishes the government would have set up strategic reserves during the coronavirus crisis, when usage was down.

“I understand that the situation was perhaps not entirely predictable, but instead of selling all the gas during the lockdowns to China, perhaps the government should have taken its precautions,” Algoet told VILT.

“Now we are totally dependent on Russia and we feel that. On top of that, there was also very little wind in 2021 and so the energy crisis is complete.”

Any grower using lighting for their crops is facing the same issue, and so many of them are choosing to turn off the lights entirely, like Cucumber grower Van den Eynde from Kontich.

“At these energy prices, it is not profitable to grow cucumbers,” he said.

Miet Poppe of AVBS, the professional association for Flemish ornamental plant cultivation and green spaces, said that flower growers are being hit, as well.

“Rising energy costs are particularly affecting heat crops such as cut flowers” Poppe told VILT, citing examples such as growers of roses, carnations and azaleas in the late phase.

“Energy costs represent 20 to 30 percent of the total costs for that kind of company,” she said, leaving those companies at risk.

Anjers De Nijs from Erpe-Mere grows carnations in a greenhouse, and is worried for the future. Their current energy prices are fixed until the end of the year, but after that are no guarantees.

“I do think that prices will normalise,” manager Koen De Nijs said, “but the question is whether they will ever get back to the old level.”

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