“I was a grower myself. All day long I was reading the crop, adjusting all the settings to get the job done. That’s more than 10,000 settings, 7 days per week, 365 days per year. That’s not working if you want to expand the greenhouse industry. And it’s not just these growers – it's also the next generation coming up, and investors that want security in their investment. We had to create something that made growing easier.” Speaking is Don Kester with Priva. On their new Open Platform, the company created Plantonomy, technology that makes it possible to control the climate, water management and energy supply in the greenhouse with maximum of six settings. “A game changer in the industry,” Don says.
Don Kester explained more on Plantonomy during the GreenTech Live & Online that takes place this week on www.greentech.nl
Making growing easier
How do you make growing easier? That’s the challenge that Meiny Prins (CEO of Priva) put to her team ten years ago. By then the company had spent half a century helping growers collect data in the greenhouse and optimise their crop using this data. Based on the path set out by institutions like WUR and researchers like Peter Kamp and Dirk Prins, they created tools, systems and techniques that made it possible to answer to the demands of a crop, with the biorhythm of the plants as a starting point. Yet for the grower it wasn’t quite easy to do so – and he would have to be on top of it.
Nowadays growers are scarce and the time they have is even scarcer. “The younger generation doesn’t want to work 24/7 anymore,” Don says. “They want free time, holidays, going to a soccer game in the weekends.” Then there’s the industry that’s rapidly changing, with the global demand for local food production rising and horticultural projects emerging all around the world - in places where there’s no growing history, nor knowledge of high-tech growing available. And there’s investors playing a bigger role in the industry. While investing millions in high-tech greenhouses to meet the demand for safe and locally grown food, the role of the crop manager is key in their business plans.
Lack of experienced growers
To put it short, all around the world there’s a lack of experienced growers, Meiny decided it was time to create a software system that would make it possible to assist the new generation of greenhouse managers. With their new technology Plantonomy, Priva is doing just that. The company put their years of growing experience, research and collected data into the computer, combined it with data science and artificial intelligence and created a system with a maximum of six basic controllers to control the greenhouse, dramatically reducing the number of climate computer inputs required to achieve predictable crop outcomes. What’s unique about Plantonomy is that it steers the crop according to the natural biorhythm of the plant.
“It's making growing easier,” Don summarises. “It will help growers achieve better results by enabling them to be in charge of more hectares, or giving them more time to look after the crop instead of the computer, or answer to the market demand better by predicting the yield more precisely and steering on those numbers.” And in saying so, Don emphasizes that he’s assured of one thing: systems and tools will not replace greenhouse managers. “We will always need people that can read the crop. Take a look at the Heineken factory – people are controlling the machines, are controlling the quality of the products. It might be the confusing part of autonomous growing – it's not autonomous, it’s a team effort. Crop managers will remain in charge of the greenhouse – it's just that they do not have to change 10,000 settings, but simply push a button.”
Among the growers that have tested the system and are currently working with it, there’s partners in the Netherlands, UK and Mexico, and as Francois Habasque of Red Sun Farms explained, it’s mainly the simplicity of the system that surprised him. “It’s amazing what technology can do today to achieve the same thing in an easy way.”
Priva Open Platform
Plantonomy is launched as a service on the Priva Open Platform – a digital platform based on Microsoft Azure Cloud Technology. “This suite of online applications and services makes it easier to grow a profitable crop, even autonomously,” the team says. “As soon as growers connect their greenhouses to the platform, they can start using online applications and services and manage their crops from anywhere, at any time. Anomalies are detected automatically and comparing crops by variety, greenhouse and geographic locations is becoming reality.”
To help growers worldwide with any challenge they may have, Priva connects products and services of partners to the open platform. With Plantonomy being one of the first, there’s more online applications and services available, and according to the team this is just the beginning. “The Priva Open Platform is not just a new product. It is the foundation of a new way of working. And the best thing is, growers don’t need to make investments to get started. All they need is a subscription. Priva process computers are already prepared to connect with the platform.”
Challenges and opportunities
As Meiny emphasises in her talk yesterday during the GreenTech, there’s many challenges that the world is facing, but also many opportunities for the horticultural industry. “As COVID shows, there’s many food deserts out there, without regional production. At the same time we’re still dealing with a growing middle class with money to buy high quality, safe grown food. And there’s climate change, urging us to change the way we live and grow. If you combine these, there’s challenges but also opportunities.”
And even though the technologies to do so will become affordable, people will have to make the change. “This virus is a warning – if we’re not listening now, the next one will come for sure and that could even be more severe. And climate change will come for sure. We have to move, quickly. As companies we can help adapting ourselves, causing the disruption that is needed by starting new technologies that are easy to use.”
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