Interview Boy Jacobs
Boy Jacobs is 29 years old and is as third generation the natural successor of father Chris Jacobs, who in turn took over the cucumber growing company from his father Jan in the 1980s. Where Chris Jacobs grew the company into what it is today, son Boy explores the side roads with his company SiTesta’s. His goal: a sustainable chain, from producer to consumer. Besides being responsible for the cultivation of the company, Boy is involved in innovation within the agrifood sector.
A sector in which he sees both the problems and opportunities. Opportunities that he believes are not being seized or are being seized by the wrong parties. It’s time to get to know him better.
What is it like to be a grower in 2020?
“I think that as a horticulturist in 2020 you need to have an eye for strategy, tactics and innovation. Now the emphasis is mainly on cost-driven production. In the Netherlands, growers mainly focus on reducing costs with the aim of being the cheapest. But why don’t we focus more on adding value to our high-quality cultivation? Of course the chain is currently set up in such a way that this focus is largely imposed. I hope that this will change in the future and that companies in the chain will have an eye for the entire ecosystem and the primary sector. Companies that are not only guided by profits and are willing to invest.”
What do you think are the biggest challenges for growers right now?
“The sector lacks appeal. People don’t feel like doing low-skilled, monotonous work that goes on 24/7. This applies not only to Dutch people, but also to labor migrants from Poland, for example. The image of the sector is not that positive and you just see that people have a different mentality than ten or twenty years ago. The drive to work is different today than it was then. It is therefore very important to do something about this image, but since the sector is quite fragmented, it is difficult to achieve an equal vision.
In my opinion, the sector is lagging behind other industries. We no longer live like farmers in wooden shoes, but this image apparently still exists. That is also up to us, because although a lot is happening in terms of high-tech, this is not well communicated. Our sector is one of the nine top sectors in the Netherlands. We should be a little proud of that. Of course we have to do something about it ourselves, but that is not possible without financial resources and a healthy relationship with the rest of the chain.”
What do you think are the key industry innovations that will impact these challenges?
“Big data and robotics; Robotics to cut costs and provide extra ‘hands’. Human personnel will never disappear, but less accepted work can be solved this way. I prefer to work with as many people as possible, but if there is no supply, we have to look for alternatives.
With big data it is possible to gain more and better insights into your own company. Data is widely applicable, from strategy to tactics. It therefore remains important to continue to look closely at the business opportunities.”
Which specific role does data play in cucumber cultivation?
“Data is available everywhere and we have been using it for a long time. Horticulture was one of the first industries to use sensors. As early as 1980, my father had a computer that could control various sensors. There is therefore a lot of data available, but how are you going to convert data into information and how are you going to add value to that information? Both internally and externally? At the moment, the focus is mainly on the short term: what can data do for me?”
“External valorisation is also possible, but then better agreements have to be made. A good example is blockchain. Large parties such as Albert Heijn indicate that they want use blockchain, but above all they want to know everything about the primary sector. We want to provide that openness, but then they must also be transparent towards growers. There is a lot of information available from the chain that is valuable, especially due to the increase in online shopping. Unfortunately, they do not provide openness themselves, which means that supply and demand are not in balance. As long as there is no dialogue, problems will not be solved by the chain.”
How do you use data yourself and how does Yookr contribute to this?
“Data is very important to us, but you have to be able to rely on that data first. With Yookr we are taking a step in the right direction. We collect quite a lot of information, but it is still difficult to actuate on it properly. By continuing to cross-check data and by continuing to work together with Yookr on the development of the software, we are always one step further.”
Why did you ever choose for a partnership with Yookr?
“We like to work with parties in the region. During our search we also encountered some competitors, but they were further away. After the first conversation with John, Yookr’s vision particularly appealed to me. You notice that John himself comes from the primary sector and that Yookr really wants to mean something to our sector. Too often we come across startups that are only out for their own gain and do not want to give anything back to the sector. You see this especially in startups that live off external financing. They must work towards profit quickly.
In addition, I experience the interest and involvement shown as very pleasant. Yookr himself sits at the table with the growers to enter into a discussion and get ideas. In this way, the product is really developed together and our ideas are translated to the platform.”