Janny Peltjes in a greenhouse with plants
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Growth funding for HLB Group - From lab to field

The HLB Group helps the agribusiness chain in the transition to future-proof agriculture. The company wants to continue to grow and enrich the sector with even more knowledge and innovations. Funding was recently raised from the NOM and Horizon Flevoland. Among other things, the money will be used for the construction of a new growing location in Dronten.

She played the piano from a young age and once considered the conservatory. Yet Janny Peltjes chose to study at the agricultural college in Dronten. 'It was mainly the combination of entrepreneurship and working in agriculture that appealed to me,' says the founder and CEO of the HLB Group, a group of companies that each contribute to efficient and sustainable agriculture based on their own expertise. 'In addition, I wanted to be able to do something to make agriculture more sustainable in a broad sense. That ambition has always remained.'

In 1998, Janny was asked to become director of the Hilbrands Laboratory (HLB). The lab, then located in Assen and later moved to Wijster, had been established in 1963 when potato cultivation was threatened by potato cyst nematode, a plant disease caused by nematodes. 'The HLB, which was funded by the ministry and the then Agricultural Board, was faced with an important choice,' Janny looks back. 'Either merge into a large organization or continue independently. That's how the private form of the HLB came into being in 1999. So from then on we had to fend for ourselves.'

Janny peltjes, CEO HLB Group

Integral approach

Whereas earlier the emphasis was on potato cultivation, Janny decided to broaden the innovation and knowledge development in the field of plant and soil health to the entire open cultivation sector. In the years that followed, acquisitions added more and more value to the services of the HLB, which was renamed the HLB Group. In addition to Hilbrands Laboratory, the company now includes De Groene Vlieg, Nutrient Management Institute (NMI), Clear Detections and AgroCares.

'Our strength lies in a unique combination of research, diagnostics, advice and innovative measurement systems,' Janny emphasizes. 'We build a bridge between science and practice and bring knowledge, techniques and systems from the lab to the field. We do this using an integrated approach. Simply because a healthy soil and a healthy crop are inseparable.'

"Our strength lies in a unique combination of research, diagnostics, consulting and innovative measurement systems."


Sterile onion flies

The HLB Group has developed into a leading player in the pursuit of a future-proof industry. But the company wants to continue to grow and bring even more knowledge to practice. Especially now that agriculture and the agri-food chain are facing increasing challenges.

'Despite the strong knowledge infrastructure in the Netherlands, it is quite difficult to translate scientific insights to the field,' Janny knows. 'You can measure or research something, but what matters is what the farmer can do with it in the field. The farmer ultimately has to get the rewards of everything we do. For example, at De Groene Vlieg Bio Control in Dronten, part of the group, we are currently busy building a facility for breeding sterile onion flies. It is our second breeding location, as we already have such a facility in Nieuwe-Tonge in the province of Zuid-Holland. That means we can more than double the production of sterile onion flies in Dronten and thus serve a larger market.'

Dreaded pest

The onion fly is a dreaded pest in onion cultivation worldwide. One of the most sustainable methods of pest control is the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT), a technique introduced by The Green Fly in the 1980s. Cultured flies are sterilized with radioactive rays and released along onion plots, then compete with wild onion flies in producing offspring. 'By releasing and monitoring enough sterile insects weekly, you can keep an infestation, without using chemicals, manageable,' Janny clarifies. 'Until recently, sterilization was done by a specialized company from Belgium. Since we have purchased our own sterilization device we are going to do it in-house.'

Janny peltjes, CEO HLB Group

Climate Control

Insect breeding is extremely sensitive to outside influences. So realizing a breeding facility requires a substantial investment, especially in climate control. That is why growth funding was recently raised from the NOM and Horizon Flevoland. 'Partly because of the Hilbrands Laboratory located in Wijster, the group's activities are closely linked to the North,' says Ruud van Dijk, investment manager at the NOM. 'Indeed, it is an important specialist in our region in the field of plant and soil health. The mutual cohesion of activities also ensures that the HLB Group can support the agriculture and agro chain on virtually all relevant fronts.'

Horizon Flevoland also indicated that it would like to finance the company from its Growth Fund. Not least because Flevoland traditionally has a lot of onion cultivation and the HLB Group in Dronten creates jobs at all levels.

Getting time

In addition to expanding the cultivation business, the investment funds will also be used to help the other HLB Group companies grow. Especially in the area of further digitalization and the development of innovative measurement systems at HLB and AgroCares, an agritech company specializing in data-driven agriculture and sensor technology.

That the transition of agriculture is both badly needed and urgent is clear. But the sector must be given time to do so, says Janny. 'There is just so much that can be done. There are so many technological solutions. Look at robotization, for example. Not so long ago that was almost a forbidden word. Because the farmer had to see and feel the cows himself. Now, if you look at what data a milking robot provides and how you can use it to control the health of cows, that's huge. Virtually the same thing is happening now in the plant sector. You can use data to look much more specifically at what an individual plant really needs. That's a bit different than treating a field in its entirety the same way. And so, on the way to a sustainable future, the sector continues to develop continuously.'