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Agro Business Club Westland on a visit to Siemens:

'Dutch agribusiness can sharply increase clout and sustainability through digitalization spurt'

Accelerated digitization can make the Dutch agribusiness sector more sustainable, promote chain cooperation and strengthen its competitive position. It also offers opportunities to deploy people and knowledge more efficiently. This was evident at the first meeting of this year's Agro Business Club Westland, held at Siemens Netherlands in The Hague on February 23.

World population growth, climate change, and urbanization are forcing us to think differently about the food chain. How can we produce more in a more efficient way, use natural resources more sparingly, and reduce our CO2 footprint? The Dutch horticulture sector is thinking about these issues in great detail. The Netherlands has a leading position in agribusiness, but partly due to the sharp rise in energy prices, existing business models are under pressure. Moreover, labor shortages and high turnover in the sector demand solutions to make better use of people and knowledge.

Digital and sustainable
The meeting discussed opportunities for the Dutch agricultural sector to maintain and strengthen its global competitive position. Digitalisation plays a role in this. "This is not only important to achieve efficiency, but also to keep the planet and people healthy," said Hester Hordijk, who is a board member of Agro Businessclub Westland and works at Florpartners, in her opening. "A new balance is needed. Social pressure is mounting. But fortunately, intrinsic motivation is also growing to make great strides as a sector in further sustainability. This requires an acceleration in digitalization, in innovative solutions."

Twin Transition
As a member of the Agro Business Club Westland, Siemens Netherlands wants to support this acceleration. The technology group is committed to the Twin Transition, in which digitization and sustainability go hand in hand. "We already have a lot of experience with this in various industries," said Rick Schneiders. "We can also use this knowledge in the agribusiness sector. Based on data, we can understand and reduce growers' energy and water consumption, but data and AI models can also help growers in other areas. This allows them to serve multiple locations at the same time, for example."

Center of Competence
Rick Schneiders is a global business developer in Siemens' international Center of Competence for Agriculture in The Hague. "We help the agribusiness market with its IT/OT strategy. Through cooperation, standardization, automation, and digitalization, we can take the next step in making the food chain more sustainable. Among other things, local production and vertical farming are becoming increasingly interesting. With data, you can create new 'as a service' business models that only pay for consumption. Think of 'Energy as a Service' or 'Crop as a Service.' With 'Greenhouse as a Service,' you could even lease a greenhouse. These are interesting developments that we follow and support as much as possible. Singapore, for instance, is already investing heavily in vertical farming. Large projects are also underway in the Middle East, Germany, America, and the UK, in which we are partly involved. We are exploring how we can further scale this up globally."

Standardization is a prerequisite for automation and digitization. Many industries already work with standard protocols, but installations in the agricultural sector are still often 'stand alone'; they cannot communicate with each other. Schneiders: "We see the need for standardization and are figuring out which standards to use for the agri-market. In dialogue with growers and technology companies active in the sector, we want to accelerate this development. We are increasingly moving from closed platforms to open platforms to share data with each other. This will make things easier for growers. As Siemens, we provide the infrastructure to share data. The client remains the owner of the data. If required, we can offer predictive maintenance and process optimization based on the data."

Autonomous greenhouse
The discussion showed that many members of the Agro Business Club Westland are already working on digitization initiatives. An owner of a potting soil company said this would enable him to offer extra service to customers. Growers see opportunities in digitalization to scale up and avoid mistakes. "By automating things like watering, we can optimize our production," said a tomato grower. Siemens can play a big role in chain cooperation, automation, and digitalization. "Eventually, we all want to move towards the autonomous greenhouse, but then our systems have to be able to communicate with each other," he said.

However, a horticultural farm is more complex than a factory because there is always a piece of nature involved. Moreover, the agribusiness sector is highly differentiated. Attendees wondered how Siemens could deal with this. "We position ourselves as a technology partner," said Schneiders. "Siemens is not an agribusiness and never will be. We do not have all the wisdom, and it is not up to us to say what the solution is. That is why we seek dialogue with the sector and bring parties together. What are agribusinesses up against? Where do they want to go? With agribusinesses as partners, we want to develop a platform together to share and analyze data. Then you can make efficiency gains together."

There was certainly interest from the agribusinesses present to explore together how to accelerate. "Siemens has something to offer us, but we also have something to offer Siemens," it sounded. "Feel free to visit our greenhouses because we have plenty of ideas. Maybe we will put you on an interesting track to support our sector technologically." Rick Schneiders gladly accepted the invitation. "As Siemens, we see a lot of interesting developments and are happy to come along to discuss them further. So do you have an interesting case? Get in touch with us!"

Source & photos: Agro Businessclub Westland

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