Growing without the right foundation is an uphill battle


Following the growth of the horticultural industry in Vietnam, the team of Fresh Studio is expanding their consulting services by offering growers horticultural technologies as well. “We focus on technologies, which growers can directly use in their current production system. For example seeds, substrate, greenhouse film. In combination with an experienced team providing technical support we assist growers to be more successful in their production through these technologies”, Rene van Rensen with Fresh Studio explains. “Without the right base set of products and technical support, growing remains an uphill battle.”

High demand for knowledge

Last week, during the HortEx exhibition in Vietnam, there wasn’t a quiet moment for the team with Fresh Studio. The Vietnamese company has been active in consultancy for the Vietnamese horticultural industry and supports hundreds of growers in the country. Last year the Fresh Academy was established to help them do so: offering practical training for Vietnamese trainers helps expand horticultural knowledge throughout the industry rapidly. According to Rene, the demand for development, knowledge and support is high amongst Vietnamese growers.

Horticulture developing fast

“Horticulture in Vietnam is developing fast. Growers are eager to learn and to develop their skills”, Rene says. “This goes for the Dalat region, famous for its horticulture, as well as other regions like Moc Chau in the north of the country, where we’ve recently opened a new office.”

He continues: “All over Vietnam and in nearby countries, the demand for fresh produce is growing, but for safe and sustainable production there is still room for improvement. Luckily the Vietnamese government supports the industry and is eager to develop “high-tech” greenhouse production. Also through project initiatives taken to further develop the sector.”

For example, later this year Fresh Studio will help in establishing 8 nurseries in the province Son La. “Through this project farmers in Son La will get access to high quality seedlings helping growers to get a better crop performance. A great aspect of this project is that all nurseries will be managed by local female growers, as gender inclusiveness is an important objective of the project.

A small nursery in Moc Chau – showing the difference in seedlings. Below: the grower showing the differences in seedlings.

Demand for supporting materials

Following these market developments, also the demand for better crop supporting materials is on the rise. “Growers willing to invest start with the base materials: Varieties, substrate, a greenhouse & film. If this base isn’t set properly, it will remain difficult to grow.”

Therefore Fresh Studio extended their consultancy activities and are now also offering growing solutions. The current assortment includes varieties (Semillas Fito, Pop Vriend Seeds, Agrico), substrates (BVB Substrates), biological crop protection (Koppert), greenhouse films (Agripolyane) and the products of Royal Brinkman.

Affordable and directly applicable

In the Vietnamese market growers don’t have much capital available, Rene explains. “We’ve chosen to focus on products that are of direct use to growers. These products are affordable and directly applicable, showing the benefits for the crop immediately.” “An imported greenhouse will certainly give a grower a better crop performance, but only if the grower makes sure he uses the right inputs for all growing aspects and has sufficient knowledge and management skills. We often see that growers still struggle with this and are not able to grasp the full potential of a crop. Therefore the market for investments in advance hardware are still limited. We don’t focus on this and are happy to refer interested growers to providers of these technologies, which we know.”

Visiting a strawberry grower in Da Lat with BVB substrates

R&D farm

The products are tested and demonstrated at the Fresh Studio R&D farm in Dalat, a 1.1 hectare farm consisting of 4 greenhouses and open field production. “In our new activities, it’s not just about sales, it’s about offering a trusted solution to the growers”, Rene explains. “We’ve tested the products ourselves and know they’re from reliable suppliers. And we continue to combine this offer with our consultancy services, to support growers throughout the cultivation.” Consultation & crop support remain the most important services of the company. New in the field of services is the cooperation with Groen Agro Control, a Dutch laboratory, Fresh Studio makes it possible for growers to have their samples sent to the Netherlands and tested there. Apart from being more affordable and trustworthy, Rene explains the importance of the advice being offered with the test results. “Measuring an EC or a pH isn’t enough if you want to know how to adjust your fertilizer application. With the increasing acreage grown on hydroponics, advice on fertilizer application is becoming more important. So we are glad to start this service together with Groen Agro Control as it enables us also to better support the growers in Vietnam regardless of whether they buy our technologies or from others.”

NFT lettuce at the Fresh Studio R&D farm in Dalat

De Heus and Fresh Studio open Aquaculture R&D farm in Vietnam in Spring 2017

Dutch feed giant Royal De Heus Animal Nutrition is to strengthen its position in Vietnam’s aquaculture sector in 2017, with the opening of a new research facility in partnership with R&D and consultancy firm Fresh Studio.

The center – due to officially open in spring 2017 – will initially focus on developing knowledge of pangasius, tilapia, snakehead and shrimp feeds. The aim is to improve the feeding performance of these species, to maximize animal growth and limit wastage of resources, Fresh Studio’s managing director Siebe van Wijk told Undercurrent News.

We hope our work can improve efficiency, quality, and stability; that’s how we can start developing the whole supply chain, into a value chain.

Mr. Siebe van Wijk – Director Fresh Studio

Fresh Studio began its work in the horticulture sector in Vietnam, where one of the largest supermarket chains in the world contracted it to develop direct farmer sourcing systems, he said. To ensure farmers complied with the quality standards of Fresh Studio’s client, Fresh Studio developed an extension service and an R&D and demonstration farm. “Within a period of ten years the combination of applied research, extension and cooperation with a large number of technology companies, resulted in the successful introduction of value-adding innovations to thousands of farmers.

Indoors at the new center

Based on this success, Fresh Studio’s client retailer contracted it to develop the same sourcing system for aquaculture. While developing this sourcing system, Fresh Studio too saw the need for the same applied R&D approach in the aquaculture sector, said van Wijk. De Heus, which had just made its first investment in the fish feed sector, saw the same need, and the first partnership stages were formed.

De Heus first became active in Vietnam in 2008, and completed a new factory there in April 2016. Now, two years after the partnership formed, their six hectare facility in Vinh Long Province, Mekong Delta, has an operating, indoor recirculation aquaculture system. Work on the outdoor area is being completed currently.

From Fresh Studio’s presentation at the Aquaculture Innovation Challenge event

The R&D farm was funded through a public private partnership between De Heus, Fresh Studio and an R&D grant from the Dutch government. Links with science were made by involving Can Tho University and Wageningen University. For De Heus, this R&D facility should develop into a key innovation center for its aquaculture feed programs in other Southeast Asian nations, as well as important other fish feed markets, such as China, and Egypt. After one year of research on pangasius and tilapia, the facility is now moving into snakehead and shrimp, said van Wijk, and will branch out into feeding technology and “pure research” on feed, to “provide concrete solutions to farmers on improved feed management”.

The site, as seen from Google Maps

Presenting the initiative at the “Aquaculture Innovation Challenge” in Ho Chi Minh – organized by the Seafood Trade Intelligence Portal, Solidaridad, and Fresh Studio early in December – van Wijk noted that pangasius selling prices at retail were trending downwards, while production costs have risen over the past 16 years. Hence the need for research into feed; feed costs make up over 90% of pangasius farming, and 85% of the cost of producing tilapia too.

Aside from this, poor seed quality and disease outbreaks can also eat into profits for farmers, he noted. When it comes to FRCs, a slight improvement could mean a big difference to margins. Currently salmon’s average feed conversion ratio (FCR) is around 1.1, while pangasius is 1.5 and tilapia 2.6, according to data he presented.

“There’s certainly room for improvement to get a bit nearer that 1.1 mark for pangasius, and that would mean real savings.”

For instance, working on the basis of a pangasius maket price of VND 21,000 per kilogram, an FCR improvement from 1.5 to 1.2 could mean savings of 20%, or VND 4,050/kg, he said. In turn this could lead to an upward spiral of better products and higher yields, improving demand, and ultimately earning higher prices, Fresh Studio hopes.

From Fresh Studio’s presentation at the Aquaculture Innovation Challenge event

We expect indirect savings also. From the farm side, because less feed will be used per pond, less organic matters will be released into the ponds which should limit both the pumping costs to exchange water, and treatment costs to cure diseases.

From a market perspective, these improvements should be perceived positively, and may play a part in driving higher market prices in the long-term, it is hoped. By the time the official opening comes around, De Heus and Fresh Studio will announce collaborations with other key players in the aquaculture sector, who want their technologies and production systems tested and further improved, he said.


Dutch horticulture technologies successfully tested in Vietnam

As part of the Transition Facility project “Accelerating the development of a modern greenhouse vegetable production sector in Vietnam” hydroponic lettuce production and biological control of pests in greenhouse vegetables are successfully applied at the R&D Farm of Fresh Studio.

Lettuce is a major crop in Lam Dong province and grown year round. The majority of the lettuce is sold in Ho Chi Minh City. In the rainy season the challenge for farmers is to produce good quality lettuce as disease pressure is high. In the dry season availability of sufficient irrigation water is becoming also a challenge as this dry season has shown. A solution for both challenges is to grown lettuce on a hydroponic system (Nutrient Film Technique). This technique has been successfully tested at the R&D Farm of Fresh Studio as part of the Transition Facility project “Accelerating the development of a modern greenhouse vegetable production sector in Vietnam”. With this system farmers are able to harvest up to 14 rounds of lettuce from the same area for the fastest growing lettuce types, greatly increasing productivity per m2. Due to the very hygienic growing conditions, disease pressure is kept at a minimum enabling top quality lettuce to be produced year round.  The closed irrigation system ensures no water is lost. Compared to growing lettuce in the soil, the amount of water needed to produce the same volume of lettuce with the hydroponic production is estimated to be > 75% lower.

Keeping pest under control and ensuring food safety is a challenge in Vietnam as greenhouse vegetables often need to be harvested daily, while the interval to harvest vegetables after applying a crop protection product is several days to over one week. In the Netherlands pest insects are mainly controlled in a biological way through natural enemies. This technique was successfully tested for cucumber and sweet pepper at the R&D Farm of Fresh Studio. Trails for tomato are planned for later in the year. Besides eliminating the need to apply pesticides to keep pest insects under control, the trial results indicate that the average production also increases, due to the more regular harvest. Through this technology food safety can be increased, while farmers can still be competitive with their vegetable selling price. 

Both technologies are demonstrated and shown to local Vietnamese farmers and farmers have started to commercially apply both technologies. A clear sign that the project’s objective, accelerating the development of a modern greenhouse vegetable production sector in Vietnam, is on the right track.

This project is implemented by a consortium consisting of Wageningen University, Rabobank Foundation, Fresh Studio, BVB Substrates, Da Lat University, HAS Hogeschool Den Bosch, Koppert Biological Systems, Rijk Zwaan, Ludvig Svensson, YARA, CMF and Priva and supported by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Powering Aquaculture Progress; developing a R&D Aquaculture farm

Together with its projects partners, Fresh Studio is developing a Research & Development Aquaculture farm in Mekong delta. This innovative center is expected to bring the Vietnamese Aquaculture to the next level.


In Vietnam, the aquaculture sector started in the early 1960s with small scale extensive culture systems. The rapid growth of the sector during the last two decades has been a direct result of adapting intensive production practices mostly for exportable species. Vietnam’s aquaculture production increased from aroud 160,000 tons in 1990, to nearly 500,000 tons in 2000. After 2000, due to the development of the pangasius and shrimp industries, the aquaculture production has increased fivefold (just under 2.5 million tons).

Despite this enormous success of the aquaculture sector in Vietnam, there are quite a number of challenges in order to achieve a more sustainable growth of the sector. For example:

  • Reducing negative environmental impacts of farming, and especially water pollution and use of limited natural resources (fish meal)
  • Control diseases outbreak and limit the use of veterinary medicines and chemicals
  • Improve cost efficiency and productivity to be able to be competitive in the global market


Aiming to be major actors in the sector, Fresh Studio and projects partners (private sector and universities) are developing a Research & Development Aquaculture farm in the heart of Mekong Delta. At the start, researches area will be focused on innovations in:

  • Fish nutrition
  • Feed management
  • Farm management Farming methods, including introduction of re-circulation systems

Aiming to be major actor of innovations in the sector, Fresh Studio and project partners (private sector and universities) are developing a Research & Development Aquaculture farm in the heart of Mekong Delta. This farm will be made of over 100 farming units from 200 liters to 2000 square meters. At the start, the area of research will be focused on innovations in:

  • Fish nutrition and feed management
  • New technologies in farming systems, including introduction of re-circulation systems
  • Farm management

To ensure that the developed innovations will be adopted by the final user (the fish farmers), training and extension programs will be implemented, as well as demonstration trials all over the Mekong Delta with leading and influential farmers.

Architecture design of the R&D Aquaculture farm 

Expected outcome

This innovative Research & Development Aquaculture center is expected to bring the Vietnamese Aquaculture to the next level.