For our second ‘Meet the Priva partner’ feature, we were privileged to interview Richard Vollebregt, CEO of Cravo, a successful greenhouse manufacturing company from Canada. Richard, who recently visited the UAE for business, received us in the lobby of Oaks Ibn Batutta Gate hotel in Dubai.
A second-generation family business with a staggering 45 years of experience and projects across six continents, Cravo is specialized in the design and manufacturing of retractable roof technology for the agriculture, horticulture and reforestation sectors. Cravo works with growers around the world to create more profitable production systems that utilize automatic retractable roofs with a focus on desert and tropical climates.
We asked Richard about his experience and outlook for AgriTech in the Middle East and working with Priva as a partner.
What has Cravo’s journey been like in the Middle East and what are your plans in the region?
“We have seen a lot of growth in the Middle East, especially in the last few years since the start of the pandemic and now have over 90 hectares of retractable roof cooling houses either in operation or under construction. We haven’t really changed what we do over the years, but what we do has become valued a lot more in the region now. The launch of national food security strategies in the region has definitely increased the focus to local produce which is driving demand for us. But equally important is that there is an increased priority on ensuring that local production systems use less water and electricity. Our retractable cooling houses use approximately 90% less water for cooling and 95% less electricity than conventional pad and fan cooled greenhouses.
“Major players in the region have purchased Cravo solutions and this has given the business a lot of credibility. Our projects vary from helping existing farms level up and innovate, to completely new agriculture and horticulture developments designed to boost local food and plant production.
“What’s also been very interesting in working in the region here, is that there is very high adoption and interest in technology, which creates great opportunities for both Cravo and Priva as specialist providers in AgriTech.”
What has your experience been like with Priva as a partner?
“Priva has been very proactive in working with us; taking the lead in incorporating Cravo’s retractable roof control logic into their computer systems to help farmers create the ideal climate for their growing facilities. This is a true win-win situation for our customers who benefit from our retractable roof coverings with integrated controls for water and temperature as one solution.
“Marcus van Heijst, Account Manager at Priva Oceania, has been instrumental in our partnership with Priva. The services and technologies Priva provide suit our business model at Cravo, and through this partnership our customers are better served. The first market we collaborated in was Australia where Marcus is based, and we were doing a lot of projects there. We did our first project with Priva in the Middle East in May 2020, in which Marcus was involved as well, ahead of the opening of Priva’s Middle East office last year.”
What is your outlook for Cravo’s partnership with Priva Middle East in 2022 and beyond?
“The reception by the industry here in the region has been very positive. The convergence of expertise and experience of both companies gives customers the opportunity to work with specialist providers as one team with local support and services on the ground.”
“Our combined expertise provides great opportunities even for specific crops. For example, Priva has a great reputation in berry fertilization and our roof systems work well for producing high quality berries which target the high price windows. This gives growers the option to have both technologies in one solution, which is a true win-win.”
“Having Priva as our partner locally on the ground in the Middle East helps to make sure everything runs smoothly, and we’re excited about our pipeline of projects.”
Can you tell us about Cravo’s history and how the company has evolved?
“My father started the business in Canada 45 years ago. He was a designer of dump trucks at the time, and when the government of Ontario was looking to implement a law that required trucks that carried sand to have a cover, he started actively looking for a solution as a business opportunity. This is how he found his business partner, who had invented a mechanical retractable cover that could be used on trucks. Long story short, they ended up starting Cravo together, representing both their names as founders.
“They evolved the technology over the years and during the 1970s energy crisis, found another great application of the technology to operate energy screens that could come on and off greenhouses to save energy. Fast forward, my dad and his business partner parted ways and we continued to advance the technology with a design manufacturing approach based on customer demand, which led to our Retractable Roof Production System™.
“Once we were active in the agriculture sector with projects across numerous countries and climates, customers started looking for ways to control the growing conditions for their (green)houses and fields, especially in warmer parts of the world. We reached out to a few potential partners to collaborate on this at the time but decided to do it ourselves. We developed our first climate controls as a proof of concept in Mexico and this generated a lot of interest from countries such as Australia, India and the UAE. In following years, we focused on adjusting and refining the control strategies for different crops, including vegetables, berries, tree fruits and figs in desert, tropical and temperate climates.”