The Greenery Growers recently invited its young growers to a workshop at Certhon in Poeldijk, the Netherlands. This workshop gave them an overview of the latest indoor farming en robotics developments.
Development of entrepreneurship
“This workshop is part of The Greenery's young entrepreneurs program. It was set up to involve them in The Greenery and develop their entrepreneurship," says Inge van Es who is responsible for member affairs at The Greenery.
“Cultivation without sunlight is a regular topic of discussion with our clients," explains Klaas de Jager, The Greenery's agronomist. "They increasingly want food that's produced more sustainably and is available year-round."
Certhon is a family business with more than 120 years of experience in the horticultural sector. With 130 experts, the company develops high-tech horticultural solutions that allow its customers worldwide to grow local, fresh vegetables, plants, and flowers year-round.
Certhon's Jeroen van Lent (Agronomist) and Timo Kleijwegt (Sales Manager) gave the young growers a look behind the scenes at the Certhon Innovation Center. "It can be quite challenging to begin an indoor farm; all its technical aspects need to be perfectly aligned," they say.
"To serve our future clients, whether they be greenhouse or indoor growers, we must provide optimal recipes, lighting strategies, and everything else involved in optimal growing conditions. We work closely with our plant scientists, researching different crop types and cultivation methods."
Certhon studies various lettuce varieties to create an optimal growing climate for its customers.
Tomatoes and strawberries
Certhon researches many different crops. At the Certhon Innovation Centre, the young entrepreneurs saw growth chambers with mini tomatoes and strawberries. "There's a lot of tomato research material, so we can make good comparisons. In strawberries, there are opportunities for indoor farming," Jeroen says, explaining the choice of these crops.
"We can only really improve strawberry cultivation's efficiency. Like having them harvested by a robot in the future, for example," Klaas adds. "Also, plant breeders could be able to deliver a reliable, plannable, pest-free product."
Certhon has been researching indoor strawberry farming for five years, with good results: up to twice as many kilos per m2.
“Indoor farming won't replace traditional cultivation methods," predicts Rick van Koppen of Kwekerij ’t Woudt. "I've yet to see a good business case. Indoor farming uses three to four times as much electricity, costs more, and not all products are suitable for it. But I do believe in indoor farming's potential."
"And in technological innovation in search of new cultivation concepts that give us more control over the growing process." Currently, indoor farming offers tools, particularly for areas where it was previously difficult to grow certain crops - growing in the Abu Dhabi desert, the North of Sweden, and the middle of a metropolis where growers have to use what space they have efficiently.
Consumer behavior is changing rapidly. Ten to 15 years ago, people often chose, say, a head of lettuce. Now they are increasingly opting for premium pre-cut products. "Well-marketed, distinctive, high-quality products sometimes lead to a price increase of up to € 35/kg," says Timo.
Indoor farming can play an important role here because this kind of production is reliable and has stable quality. This is crucial because lettuce and microgreens are competing more and more in the retail market. This is already very much the case with products like Pepsi and Coca-Cola.
Part of Certhon's future plans includes automation and robotics, especially with minority owner DENSO's recent involvement (1.5 years). DENSO is a Japanese company specializing in producing and developing automotive components. "We always focus on cultivation's future, and DENSO's involvement means we have endless possibilities."
"We expect to be able to put a harvesting robot for cherry tomatoes on the market within two years. In August, a model will arrive in the Netherlands. It will run 20hrs/day and pick 20kg/hr of 54 to 80% of the tomatoes," concludes Timo. Young growers are invited to come and see this new model in the fall.
Besides traditional methods, Certhon focuses on automated tomato cultivation ideas to counteract the use of laborers.