France’s Sival show connects professionals from the protected cropping industry, the arable sector, viticulture, oenology, arboriculture, and seed industry with companies providing cutting-edge machinery, technology, equipment, plant breeding and services. Its presence in ornamental horticulture is growing.
‘Retour en force’ for the 36th edition of France’s premier commercial plant cultivation’ show which saw a record attendance of 25,000 industry professionals. The show happened at the Parc des Expositions convention centre in Angers between 16-18 January 2023.
The trade exhibition hosted 703 exhibitors from home and abroad, from seed to flower and plant breeding companies, greenhouse builders, horticultural engineering and lighting companies, business consultants to specialist machinery manufacturers and dealers, winery equipment suppliers, agronomists, brand and packaging specialists, and professional service providers. Alongside all of this, Sival offered a full itinerary of top-notch conferences and workshops.
At this year’s show, the spotlight was overwhelmingly on robotics/automation and sustainable agriculture, including related topics such as energy saving, smart water management, biocontrols and the use of biobased and circular pots, containers, and packaging.
With many plant cultivation professionals from various agricultural and horticultural sub-sectors under one roof, Sival gauges the annual progress made by each sector. At the same time, it also provides an unrivalled opportunity to see if the ‘grass is greener’ on the other side of the agricultural and horticultural spectrum. Suffice it to say that attendees had no difficulty filling their schedules.
French Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau officially opened the show, showing his unwavering support for a sector in rocky waters. First was the massive disruption caused by Covid-19; what followed next was an unprecedented drought that continues today.
The extreme drought left aside, France has a good climate growing fruits and vegetables; it’s primarily temperate, benign, and rarely extreme. Yet, the Hexagone is growing less and less, with self-sufficiency levels in fruits and vegetables in a continuous fall. Today, the country produces only half of the fresh produce it needs.
At the gargantuan Salon International de l’Agriculture held in Paris between 25 February and 5 March 2023, the Minister revealed his Souveraineté Fruits&Légumes (Self-Sufficiency in Fruits and Vegetables) plan to reduce dependency on food imports, increase the sector’s productivity by adopting good agricultural practices, modernise the country’s greenhouse clusters, and make agriculture and horticulture carbon neutral.
The Minister announced hundreds of millions worth of sustainable agricultural research projects to improve a robust, resilient, climate-proof food and agricultural system. This programme is made under France’s Rural Development funding scheme CASDAR which provides money to improve agriculture, address biodiversity and labour challenges and promote land stewardship to correct climate change impacts in agriculture and horticulture.
Protected cropping has been popular in the Netherlands for years, but official figures show how demand is taking off in France too.
A 2020 study by the agricultural statistics office Agreste found that the area of protected fresh produce in France is 10,500ha of glasshouses and poly-hooped greenhouses, of which 1,400ha are heated and primarily used for cucumbers and tomatoes. According to Agreste, there are 9,100ha non-heated polytunnels for growing, for example, melons and salad. In comparison: in 2010, the ‘under-cover production’ was only 7,430ha.
Valhor’s 2021 extensive market study, Observatoire des données structurelles des entreprises de l’horticulture et de la pepinière, indicates that the area of protected ornamental crops in France is 2,244ha glasshouses and poly-roofed tunnels of which 30 per cent are heated, and 34 per cent are under anti-hail netting. This segment of the industry also comprises 28 per cent non-heated polytunnels. ‘Heated ornamentals’ include houseplants, bedding plants (66 per cent) and cut flowers (14 per cent), with production geographically concentrated in the Loire Valley, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) and Auvergne- Rhone Alpes (ARA).
Naturally, the massive rise in gas prices, sparked partly by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, makes it harder for French greenhouse growers because they need to heat their greenhouses.
“In France, 80 per cent of fresh produce companies use natural gas, 70 per cent have a co-generation plant, 12.2 per cent use biomass, 6.8 per cent residual heat, and one per cent heats greenhouses with propane. The largest input costs for growers used to be labour, followed by energy. Now it is energy followed by labour,” says Ariane Grisey, an energy expert working for CTIFL’s research centre for fruits and vegetables and one of the keynote speakers at Sival’s ‘Optimising energy consumption in greenhouse crops’ conference.
Anne Laure Laroche, a researcher at Astredhor, added, “Energy sources used in French ornamental horticulture include natural gas (25 per cent), oil (10 per cent), biomass (two per cent) and propane (four per cent) with a quarter of all companies (45 per cent of total production area) using a mix of energy sources including coal (!).
Regarding energy consumption in ornamental horticulture, Laroche says there are three types of businesses: It can be a greenhouse that primarily serves to keep the frost outside (8°C) with an energy consumption between 20-30kWh/m², it can be a moderate greenhouse (8°C-15°C) using between 75-100kwH/m², or it can be a hothouse (>15°C) with an energy use between 200-250kWh/m².
Business consultant and industry veteran Brand Wagenaar elaborates, “Between March 2022 and March 2023, the median price for horticultural consumers increased substantially. At the same time, other commodity prices, including peat, plastics, fertiliser, and pesticides, have been surging across the board by an average of 20 per cent. Young plants (+10 per cent), logistics (+12 per cent) and labour costs (+8 per cent) are all on the rise. The grower has two options; passing the rapidly rising costs on to his customer by raising prices or refraining from any price adjustments, which means cutting their margins.
Between 2019-2021, 281 companies went out of business, resulting in 866 fewer jobs and a decreased production area of 1,000ha. Today, there are 2,760 horticultural businesses left in France.
Due to the energy crisis, growers lower gr, leading to lower production output. Scaling down production, in general, is another option, or turning towards seasonal production to use lower energy prices in summer.
However, a survey by France’s leading horticultural media outlet Le Lien Horticole found that, contrary to the Netherlands, only a handful of French growers are completely shutting down in response to the cost increase. And if so, they cite personal circumstances such as retirement as the main reason. Wagenaar says, “SMEs are the backbone of French ornamental horticulture, and it’s amazing to see the amount of business confidence, stability, and resilience despite the past three years full of economic and geopolitical uncertainties. And there is still room for slow but steady growth.”
Yet, crippling energy costs cause a headache for the greenhouse industry, with hortipreneurs proactively pushing for energy efficiency. Grisey notes, “We calculated electricity efficiency in truss tomato growing – kWh/kg tomato- which positively evolved from eight in 2007 to 5.7 in 2021. But there is much to win. Among the quick wins are leaving some greenhouse compartments empty, lowering light use and pipe temperature, and leaving energy screens closed more frequently.”
Moreover, preventive maintenance of the entire installation and proper peak load management are also methods to reduce energy use. Grisey says: “Regarding the greenhouse’s cladding, polycarbonate panels and thermal insulating sandwich panels improve the structure’s heat retention with up to five per cent energy savings. A single, double, or triple screen is more energy efficient, leading to 20, 30 and 40 energy savings, respectively.”
Innovation in screening is making a difference with all eyes on the magic formula or the heat transfer coefficient. The lower the coefficient, the better the material insulates. In two-curtain systems, we see a coefficient of 2.4. In comparison: the heat transfer coefficient of glass is six,” explains Grisey, adding that a range of energy-saving actions, including energy screens in horticulture, are eligible for the French Energy Economy Certificates (Certificats d’Economie d’Energie (CEE), a grant scheme under which energy suppliers encourage their customers to install energy efficient improvements and subsequently redeem vouchers to cover up the cost of chosen improvements.
Keeping the screens closed for longer may reduce energy costs but need a change of approach to other aspects of climate control, notably humidity. Grisey explains, “Humidity control makes up 20 to 30 per cent of the energy bill. But dehumidification is necessary when insulating greenhouses with grower using ventilation, condensation, or desiccant dehumidification.”
An increasingly iniquitous position
French horticulturists find themselves in increasingly iniquitous positions of taking the biggest risk, often acting as a buffer from the retailer against economic headwinds, particularly now that retail chains are growing bigger and bigger. For example, the In Vivo Buying group includes Jardiland, Gamm Vert, and Delbard.
The biggest takeaway from the Garden Trends Collection Days, held in Marseille’s Parc Chanot by the end of March 2023 and bringing together all industry stakeholders, was the weakening market in 2022, particularly when compared to the record year 2021. Garden centre sales dropped by six to eight per cent depending on product categories.
Market analysts, however, quickly recall how growers received considerable retail price increases in 2020 and 2021 and that growth is still possible. In linear terms, the garden retail market grew by 4 per cent in 2022, which is still a great performance, notes industry body Promojardin.
There’s no doubt that French consumers are worried about global geopolitical tensions and the rising cost of living. Still, the severe drought is putting off most French gardeners. Despite the rain in March, water bodies are far from sufficiently filled, and there’s little moisture deeper underground. This situation is currently one of the biggest headaches in the French garden market.
Recent Kantar consumer research commissioned by industry bodies Valhor and FranceAgrimer uncovered that in 2022 garden retail sales dropped 11 per cent in value and 14 per cent in volumes sold. At the pandemic’s start, people rushed to decorate their homes and plant their outdoor spaces, but this habit did not stick.
In 2022, the garden plants, trees and shrubs categories suffered the most in value and volume, whereas it was the most dynamic market in 2021. Even though 2022 marked the lifting of most health restrictions, houseplant sales decreased in value and volume that same year.
The country’s four primary horticulture sales outlets reported declining value and volume, including florists, garden centres /farm shops, supermarkets and family-owned plant nurseries.
Brittany is blessed with a benign maritime climate and many hours of sunshine, which fuels growth in French greenhouse horticulture. Its Finistère department hosts the largest concentration of heated tomato and cucumber greenhouses in France, spanning 277ha.
Interestingly, several greenhouse complexes have emerged in non-traditional horticultural heartlands such as Gironde (Lapouyade), Haute-Garonne (Bessières), Corrèze, and Nord-Pas-de-Calais (Arques). Some of these businesses are opportunely located near municipal landfills. The natural gas created, thereby decomposing trash and other organic waste, serves to heat the greenhouses.
The brainchild of several Dutch greenhouse manufacturers, the ‘semi-closed’ greenhouse offers savings in energy – mainly because of their approach to ventilation – and water use. In the latest generation of semi-closed greenhouses, the fan and duct system take care of more of the ventilation requirements, so the vents and energy screens stay closed longer, retaining more heat. The air treatment units include heat exchangers to recapture heat as the air is dehumidified, while summer heat surpluses are stored in an underground aquifer. Overall energy savings of up to 30 to 40 per cent are claimed.
According to Grisey, France’s contingent of semi-closed greenhouses spans 100ha, a figure that greenhouse builder Horconex dares to question. “We believe that figure is much lower. Semi-closed greenhouses mainly emerged in Southern France, where temperatures in summer and insect pressure (whitefly) are high. Some Brittany-based growers built semi-closed greenhouses that did not meet their expectations. They will undoubtedly opt for a more conventional greenhouse when considering future expansion,” says Horconex director Vincent Kuijvenhoven.
Founded in 1972 by Cees van Uffelen, Horconex is a leading developer and manufacturer of complete, high-tech greenhouse projects in France, Switzerland, and Germany. The company operates from its headquarters in Poeldijk and three French subsidiaries in Brest, Nantes, and Monteux.
Over the past decades, Horconex has built an estimated 700ha of new greenhouses in France using a Boal roof. New structures are ultra-modern but lack the quintessentially French ‘Grandeur’. Kuijvenhoven elaborates, “Greenhouse horticulture in France is dominated by family-run businesses which tend to expand and replace structures every ten years gradually and cautiously. Meanwhile, French horticulturists are dedicated followers of the latest greenhouse technology and ready to adopt their existing structures so they can implement it.”
The French, for example, has been one of the first growers to embrace the Activenlo greenhouse, designed to pro-actively dehumidify the air, bringing nh energy cost savings of up to 20 per cent. Activenlo is also the answer to high humidity levels under a double energy screen, and its principle continues to be widely used in France.
Solar Venlo serves a different segment of the market, dominated by large-scale, specialised companies that build greenhouses for farmers who can only grow a limited number of crops under these structures. The tendency in French greenhouse buildings is to use glass. Kuijvenhoven says: “Glass is a more sustainable material and allows for greenhouse cropping according to the Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) principle.”
Over the past years, increased consumer demand for homegrown vegetables and flowers has driven an uplift in greenhouse demand. More recently, there’s been a slump in demand for new greenhouses. Kuijvenhoven notes, “General demand is sluggish, with only a few projects scheduled for this year. There’s global uncertainty, fuelled by skyrocketing commodity prices, including energy. As such, French greenhouse growers rush to reduce energy use. Surging costs drive demand for Horconex’s greenhouse rooftop solar, adjustments in thermal screens and optimising heating installations. The impact of the CEE and France Agrimer schemes is massive regarding energy-saving investments such as energy screens and more energy crisis-proof heating installations. But these schemes are quickly running out of money.”
Commenting on the future of the country’s greenhouse horticulture Kuijvenhoven says, “True to tradition, cooperatives have a strong presence in the market. As a result, investors may find it difficult to realise large-scale projects. I anticipate existing companies will do the biggest chunk of business expansion. There are examples of several family businesses joining forces to set up a new greenhouse company, still under the flag of the cooperative. Moreover, government regulation regarding the construction of new greenhouses gets increasingly stricter, a major obstacle to efficiently building them. France is a prime example of a country concerned with homegrown industry and food security. High-tech greenhouses are a tool to reach these objectives, but only step by step.”
Whether the greenhouse is conventional or semi-closed, climate control depends on input from various sensors. But the environmental and crop growth data these sensors generate can do more than drive the climate control computer.
“Analysed and presented in the right way, the data can help growers, and their investors make more informed decisions in LED lighting,” said Louis Golaz, CEO of Red Horticulture, an award-winning French designer, manufacturer and supplier of LED lighting solutions for greenhouse horticulture.
The company is a self-acclaimed ‘master in photobiology’, studying the interactions of light with greenhouse crops to understand their requirements better and apply the perfect LED light recipe.
Red Horticulture sustains that there is no universal and fixed lighting recipe. Therefore, it is necessary to continuously combine LED light intensity management and LED light spectrum management to maximise production using the proper light levels and quality at the right time.
At the core of Red Horticulture’s dynamic LED lighting strategy are its scalable Taurus fixtures in 300W or 600W for total control of spectrum and intensity. The Taurus fixtures connect with Red Horticulture’s Solstice data management system. This system gathers climatic information (temperature, humidity, pressure, CO2) collected by greenhouse sensors and interprets it to give an overall picture of what’s happening in the crop.
The optional MyRed feature maximises profits by using dimmable LEDs in tandem with the amount of natural sunlight available and the producer’s energy contract (off-peak/ peak hours/ or daily rate).
Red Horticulture’s LED lighting technology has been extensively trialled in France and abroad.
Vegetable transplant grower Thomas Plants from Brittany says, “Their LEDs enabled us to produce greenhouse tomato transplants in November with a comparable quality of transplants produced in Spring”.
Building on the success of its initial 1,000m2 trial, Thomas Plants is now ready to expand its production area under Red Horticulture LEDs to 4,000m2, and its CEO Nicolas Paul explains why, “HPS technology has reached a fairly mature life cycle and will need to be renewed in the coming years.”
The company’s production manager Jérôme Crenn sees room for improvement when swopping HPS for controllable LEDs. “In 2018, when we first met Red Horticulture, our knowledge about horticultural LED was generic. There was a feeling that the existing systems were not adapted to the needs of plant growers. RED offered a genuinely innovative concept regarding wavelengths adapted to the plant.”
Golaz adds, “In young plant production, there are different stages: sowing, post-grafting, transplanting. The plant has different light requirements at each stage, hence the interest in controllable lighting with a portfolio of different light recipes.”
Thomas Plants group has installed TAURUS 600 above its crop and controls it by Solstice. Ten light recipes have been identified and implemented thanks to a joint literature review by RED and Thomas Plants. Jérôme Crenn explains: “For example, we have a recipe that aims to improve seed germination and another that is perfect for post-grafting recovery.”
While most ag tech focuses on inputs and processes, Maxime Dedecker from 2Grow says little was telling the grower what was happening with the most important part of the greenhouse — the plants.
2Grow and Phyto-IT, an offspring of the university of Ghent University, showcased their PhytoStem plant monitoring system to diagnose crop stress before visual symptoms manifest. Bio-sensors attached to the plant stem record and analyse signals emitted by the plants to detect their responses to environmental changes quickly.
PhytoStem’s sap flow measurement is vital for quantifying plant water. The device allows measuring sap flow and stem diameter variations of plants with stem diameters ranging from 8 – 19 mm. The sensors demonstrate how plants respond to environmental changes (irrigation, lighting, temperature changes) or plant manipulation (pruning, harvesting). The system ea herbaceous (tomato, cucumber, capsicum) or woody (grapevine) stems. In ornamental horticulture, the system has been trialled by Saintpaulia grower Vlasman and Chrysanthemum breeder and propagator Gediflora. Dedecker hails Phytostem in tomatoes and cucumbers a success.
Building on this success, he and his team looked into expanding into smaller ornamental crops. He says, “A stem and leaf clip tracks the variation of stems and leaves. This system is marketed under the name PhytoClip.”
More insight into a plant’s sap flow can help make water and crop management more efficient, particularly under unpredictable rainfall patterns and water scarcity resulting from climate change. In addition to detecting sick plants, sap flow measurement assists in selecting drought-resistant conditions. Mu to measure sap flow, including heat balance, dyes and radiolabeled tracers. Heat sensor-based techniques are the most popular and commercially available to study plant hydraulics.
Sival Innovation Award
Part of the annual Sival show is the award ceremony for the most innovative products. Awards are handed out in seven categories: varietal innovation, production tools, machinery and automation, production solutions, presentation and marketing, services and software, and collective approach.
Among the Medal winners whose innovations offer interesting solutions for the ornamentals sector are Sumi Agro France, the French branch of the globally acting Sumitomo Group (883 group companies, 75,000 employees, net income USD3.8 billion), which was founded in Osaka in 1919 and has its headquarters in Tokyo today.
The company’s silver award-winning Nurspray is a registered biostimulant designed to activate the plants’ natural mechanisms of tolerance to water stress. The product is based on a new signal molecule discovered and developed by the startup Fyteko. The product is in the initial marketing phase in France.
The active molecule in Nurspray® is derived from hydroxycinnamic acids naturally present in plant cell walls. It is obtained through a unique green chemistry process. A whole series of genes regulated by the application of Nurspray® were identified and grouped into three functional categories: genes linked with managing water stress, osmotic pressure, and transmitting information. Following this analysis, research work focused on the metabolic pathway of proline. This amino acid plays a significant role in osmoprotectant, demonstrating that Nurspray® could modulate proline production. Foliar application of the product induces an overproduction of proline because the signal molecule sends the plant the message that it is in a state of stress. In the absence of natural stress, this proline is recycled by the plant, and when stress occurs, the plant will naturally start to overproduce proline more rapidly and intensively. Thanks to Nurspray®, the plant remembers this means of defence and can trigger it in the event of stress, which it then withstands more effectively. The effects of Nurspray® on crops mean better use of available water, greater resilience to water stress and better post-stress recovery.
Also scooping up a silver award at Sival was PATS-C, an innovative device equipped with an infrared camera that records the flight movements of noctuids (moths) over an area of 100 m², representative of the pests’ activity in a one-hectare shelter. This new tool, consisting of two boxes that are easy to install and move around, thanks to their cable ties, detects the first flight of the moth pests and visualises the development of their population in vegetable, ornamental and fruit crops.
PATS-C is the brainchild of Pats Indoor Drone Solutions from Delft, the Netherlands and is distributed in France by Biobest.
In biobased pots, Fertil from the Alsace region showcased its extensive range of wood fibre biodegradable Fertilpots, available in rounded and square shapes and different sizes, all with a remarkably natural terracotta look.
Pine forest (Abies and Picea) thinning to improve forest health in the nearby Vosges Mountains range provides woody biomass for the Fertil pot’s manufacturing process that does not incorporate glues or binders.
Fertilpots are biodegradable and intended to be planted directly in the ground or the next larger container. Unlike rice-hull pots, starch-based polymers, and ‘biodegradable’ plastics, Fertilpots do not require a composting situation to degrade. The biggest chunk (two-thirds) of Fertil pots sell to hobby gardeners. In contrast, the share of retail customers pushed by an increasingly eco-conscious consumer- is increasing. However, the price (Fertilpots are three times more expensive than the conventional plastic pot) is still an obstacle.
That is, until now. Occupying pride of place at Sival was the Fertilpot NT, which can be used in machinery like traditional plastic pots. Also, its improved geometric design allows for an easier restacking of the pots. Because water, air, and roots penetrate the walls of the Fertilpot easily, there is no need for drainage holes. The natural root structure that develops helps to ensure a successful transplant.
Commenting on the current state of the French gardening industry four months after her company exhibited at Sival, Graines Voltz’s marketing and communications manager, Mireille Prompt-Rucart, says, “Energy costs spiked less than the industry warned of last autumn. The current picture suggests that the price increase is less impactful for consumers than expected. However, in the light of persistent inflation, a tense social climate, and the first alarm raised over drought in large parts of the country, consumers will likely shop more prudently rather than spend more on flowers and plants this spring.”
Since the autumn of 2022, Prompt-Rucart has seen how the company’s customer base has become more cautious and choosier, with customers slightly moving the delivery of products to a later time, enabling them to heat less and during a shorter period. In the bedding plant category, seed and young plant sales dropped five to ten per cent.
Prompt-Rucart says that within the ornamentals industry, there’s an undeniable trend toward less energy-intensive crops that take less water and are drought resistant.
Meanwhile, the anti-peat debate, as seen and heard in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands, has not gone unnoticed. “In close collaboration with our suppliers, we are currently trialling products and growing techniques to become less dependent on peat and ultimately be able to sell our young plants in a peat-free substrate.”
For the second consecutive year, Graines Voltz will be present at the FlowerTrials (13-16 June 2023), and the company is looking forward to this event – a time for catching up with clients whilst showing ti and well-known products and marketing concepts. “For the occasion, we will again team up with Florensis at their location in Hendrik-Ido-Ambacht, where we will display our portfolio next to PanAmerican Seed. Our presentation will focus on our extensive product range suited for Mediterranean, maritime, and continental climates. The spotlight will be on a thornless yellow raspberry named Abundance Spineless Yellow in the gourmet fruits category. But our new series of mildew-resistant Honeycomb tomatoes will also be vying for attention.
At home in France, Prompt-Rucart thinks the Sival trade show is going from strength to strength. “For Voltz Horticulture, the show is essential to growing our kitchen garden plant and herb business which frequently are grown next to ornamentals. So therefore, our Sival stand displays plants in both categories. Sival’s biggest strength, however, is its focus on horti and agtech and the cross-pollination between the different sub-sectors of agriculture. That’s something the organisers must be proud of and cherish. Our biggest takeaway from this year’s Sival show has been the upbeat mood, the strong interest of professionals in our product range, and the readiness to innovate even in economically trying times marked by geopolitical tensions.”
Sival’s growth opportunities
With the presence of Graines Voltz, Beekenkamp, Selecta and more, Sival already hosts several flower and plant breeding and propagation companies. But there’s room to expand its offer in ornamental horticulture.
Sival’s timing is perfect. January marks the end of the holidays fuelling the entrepreneurial spirit with a stronger-than-usual drive to restart business with a sharper focus. With the Parc des Expositions in Angers, Sival has an excellent permanent showground with good access to major roads and public transport. Plus, Sival’s programme many pre-screened international buyers to the trade shows.
Anyone with a track record in ornamental horticulture knows that as soon as an annual trade show changes its format and moves to a biennial event, as France’s iconic trade show Salon du Végétal did last year, will automatically cause a drop in attendance. As such, it would be possible for Sival and Salon du Végétal to join forces to organise both events under one roof in January.
One major challenge for Sival will be expanding an already crowded show floor. Adding space by building even more temporary, not easy-to-navigate tent structures is perhaps not the best solution.
In 2024, Sival will take place between 16-18 January 2024. For more information: www.sival-angers.com. Next year will also mark the inaugural edition of Sival Senegal.
This article first appeared in the May 2023 FloraCulture International.