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We are all on the same journey in horticulture

Author: Jacco Strating
Thursday, 12 November 2020

Technology will play a crucial role in international greenhouse horticulture in the coming years. But for those innovative tools to be successful, a different mindset is also needed of the people who create those innovations and the people who have to work with them. That was one of the important messages that emerged during GreenTech Live & Online.

Over 6,300 horticulture professionals signed up for the virtual show GreenTech Live & Online on 20, 21 and 22 October. From a live studio, thought leaders and market experts discussed the latest trends and developments on technology and innovation in horticulture. Attendees from 107 countries watched 53 knowledge sessions with 121 speakers. They talked about new developments in autonomous growing, vertical farming and cannabis, but also questions such as ‘how to feed the world?’ were discussed.

Smart processing technology
The event started with the prestigious GreenTech Innovation Award. Nominees in three categories heard how this year’s winners were also announced online. Van der Ende Group won in the category Sustainability with the Nexus High Performance Reverse Osmosis (HPRO). It is a water desalination system that consumes less energy and delivers a higher recovery rate than a conventional system, using smart processing technology. It uses the water source more efficient and responsible, resulting in less raw water consumption and less wastewater.

In the category Concept, the award went to Sensor Factory with CELINE. With this product, the irrigation water can be adjusted as desired. All nutrients are measured continuously, in real time, with CELINE. This real-time data, combined with an individual nutrient dosing system, makes it possible to create the ideal irrigation water that is always stable and controllable, regardless of the circumstances. The result: 5% more yield, improved crop quality and reduced water and fertilization.

More accurate sorting process
Finally, the award in the Innovation category went to ISO Group with the ISO Grade 8000. It is a machine that can sort young plants based on artificial intelligence and 3D imaging. With the latest techniques in AI, the grower can sort on many different properties of the plant, making the sorting process much more accurate. With the unique gripping technique it is possible to pick up young plants and place them back in an empty tray.

According to jury chairman Liselotte de Vries of TU Delft AgTech Institute, the three winning innovations looked beyond their own organization and clearly showed how their innovation is expected to affect the entire chain. “The presentations and statements were supported by numbers and figures. Collaboration with partners was also a parameter that helped the winners to higher grades. The winners introduced a new approach or concept, while others improved existing practices.”

“Greenhouses get the sun for free, vertical farms don’t. At the moment vertical farming is not economical viable, but it has a function for growing seedlings. Together with other greenhouse builders we can offer our customers a complete future proof solution.”

Vertical farming is not economical viable
The three winning innovations were a fitting introduction to the series of discussions and presentations that followed during GreenTech Live & Online. Greenhouse builders, technical experts, cultivation specialists and captains of industry took turns on the various online stages, in which they shared their view of the future of greenhouse horticulture. “A lot of things are changing, so we have to try to keep up and create and ideal climate for the crops to grow”, Peter Dekker of PDI said. Pieter Kruijt of Verkade agreed: “We have to grow better and faster and it’s up to us to offer the best circumstances.” Wouter Kuiper of KUBO sees an important role in this for traditional greenhouse builders. “Greenhouses get the sun for free, vertical farms don’t. At the moment vertical farming is not economical viable, but it has a function for growing seedlings. Together with other greenhouse builders we can offer our customers a complete future proof solution.”

Growers should rely more on data
According to Meiny Prins, CEO of Priva, technology will be highly available for growers in the years to come and it will become cheaper. “But it’s the people who have to make the change, not the technology”, she said. “They have to choose to use these techniques massively and together we have to keep on being disrupting. Again, I am a believer that technology will take us many steps further, but only if we start using it.” Prins therefore thinks that a different mindset is needed, in which growers rely more on data and digital resources.

That was also the point made by Isabella Righini and Anna Petropoulou, both researchers at Wageningen University. They were involved in the Autonomous Greenhouse Challenge, which was organized for the second time this year. The saw that a technology such as Artificial Intelligence can indeed outperform human growers. By using sensors and robotics and by applying data in the right way, companies can improve themselves. But only when growers start seeing autonomous growing as an extra tool in stead of a threat.

Collaboration is essential
Sander Baraké of Ridder Group indicated that cooperation will also be a keyword in the coming years. The company recently introduced Ridder HortOS, which provides horticulture businesses with a centralized environment that they can use to collaborate and work towards shared goals. Not only does the platform give you access to financial and operational data from multiple crops, greenhouses, and locations, but it also transforms that data into actionable information and clear insights. So, you can make the right decisions yourself. “Everybody is working on pieces of the puzzle right now. Therefore, collaboration is essential for making innovations successful. We must combine all these different expertises. The technology is there, but we got to get together to help growers using it in the right way. So, look outside the walls of your own company and talk to each other. In the end, we are all on the same journey in horticulture.”

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