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New HAS research group to train 'tech savvy' grower of the future

In recent months, several talks have been held, and some sector reports have been used to form a picture of developments in the high-tech horticulture sector in order to establish the substantive frameworks for the succession of Jasper den Besten's New Cultivation Systems 'lectoraat' or research group. Based on these discussions and insights, HAS Green Academy arrived at the following proposition for the new research group. This proposition has been translated into so-called research lines. In addition, the Green Academy provides a picture of the financial resources needed to finance a new research group.

Jasper den Besten in his new role at Fruit Logistica 2023 next to an autonomous horticultural robot

The key insights are available in a presentation, and this proposal is the result. Background: a 'lectoraat' is an HBO research group in which a lecturer, as a figurehead, leads a research group of lecturer-researchers and students who carry out applied research within a specific scope in close cooperation with industry.

In the concluded research group "new cultivation methods" from 2010-2022, Jasper put research and education in vertical farming on the map and allowed many a "green" talent to start a career. HAS Green Academy wants to follow up on this with a new path within protected crops by practically connecting growers and science but also training the "tech savvy" grower of the future.

High-tech horticulture or controlled environment agriculture (CEA) is a growing international field where knowledge and technology generated in the Netherlands form an important basis for the production of healthy vegetables, flowers, and pot plants. But also herbs, leafy crops, starting materials, seeds, and content crops in a space where temperature, light, and water are highly controllable.

CEA enables efficient use of scarce resources; plants can perform optimally anywhere in the world in a controlled environment and are independent of the local climate. CEA is able to create an ideal climate for the plant, with themes such as healthy earning potential,
changing market demands, circularity, and reduced dependence on fossil energy sources as key starting points.

There are challenges here, not only in terms of cultivation technology but also in social, health, climatic, and economic aspects. The world is changing, companies are getting bigger and operating within different markets, in different locations, and with different technical capabilities. Cultivation knowledge is scarce and will be provided less and less from the greenhouse itself and more and more remotely (from a central location). "Remote cultivation knowledge" or "remote data-driven CEA" is a form of cultivation where the cultivation manager, labor, and scout specialists make intensive use of a multitude of sensors, equipment, and installations in order to realize an optimal environment for the plant.

The proposed research group aims to operate at the intersection of information, technology, and cultivation management. Starting from an understanding of plant physiology and crop growth, the proposed research group will investigate how a plant can perform optimally within a protected and controlled environment based on the digitally obtained information.

The main objectives of the research group are:

  • The analysis of different information flows, data delivered via dashboards from different locations in combination with other observations and a good understanding of plant processes translate to an even better plant understanding and, from there to cultivation control and advice.
  • To arrive at system designs for plant - man - technology, enabling more sustainable cultivation (circularity, integration in the environment, and minimal need for fossil energy sources).

The issues are delivered from practice and come from growers and suppliers looking for the most practical way to deploy sensorics and want to base their crop management on the data generated.
Together with the partner companies, the Green Academy wants to flesh this out and delineate it further, initiating a practical research program for the next four years.

Primarily based on knowledge from HAS green academy:

  • Greenhouse and Cultivation: crop monitoring and (autonomous) remote control of greenhouses with optimal (sustainable circular) use of resources.
  • Pests and diseases: digital scouting of pests and diseases in order to optimize Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
  • Substrates and irrigation: more crops from the soil to enable circular cultivation in addition to optimizing water use and root environment.

Secondary and preferably together with other research groups, colleges, or organizations:

  • Production and market: optimizing crop forecasts and aligning them with the (healthy) desire of the
    local consumer.
  • Labor and robotization: path registration, monitoring autonomously operating robots, and optimizing
    working conditions.
  • Energy optimization: from energy balance and transition to fossil-free cultivation.

This research group covers a relatively large knowledge domain and will:

  • Collaborate with pioneer entrepreneurs in sensor-controlled cultivation cq. remote control.
  • Collaborate with organizations cq. companies that have an interest in the further development of sensor-controlled cultivation in the search for further sustainability of controlled cultivation.
  • Collaborating with partners that have high-tech research facilities.
  • HAS provides an open platform where dashboards are independently compared, validated, and improved.

How the HAS Green Academy will do this
Through the partner companies, the Academy (lecturer, lecturer-researchers, and students) wants to look at the different dashboards (differences in crops and locations). Together, the Green Academy will work out practical issues in the above research lines where the Green Academy links the plant to various key performance indicators (KPI) on the dashboard to optimize cultivation.

These practical issues will be defined together with the partner companies. This can be real-time or based on historical datasets in greenhouses or in a vertical farm. To ensure independence from the HAS guarantee, it is important that there is a direct relationship between the chosen project goal and the funding.

"For diseases and pests, we have been conducting various studies for four years to optimize scouting in and around the greenhouse and provide digital insight. These studies have been funded by Glastuinbouw Nederland, i.e., the growers."

The HAS Green Academy consciously chooses to connect with partners who are working on sensing at the highest level. This allows the research group to focus on the research itself, i.e., interpreting the data obtained and not on the preconditions to collect, store and process this data (building and getting equipment working).

How will the Academy finance this?
For each line of research, the Academy is looking for two or more (unique) companies willing to invest an (annual) amount in cash in combination with knowledge and time on the basis of a three- to four-year research program per line of research to make "remote CEA" possible. With this, the HAS Green Academy enables the digital transformation of the CEA industry.

This financial basis will be used as a corporate contribution by HAS green academy to provide a third money stream for this research group funding from the known grant schemes. Ideally, the lecturer himself will be funded by HAS' first money stream, an industry organization, or a government agency (province). This will make it clear that HAS is an independent institute representing the sector.

For more information:
HAS Green Academy
Postbus 90108
5200 MA, 's-Hertogenbosch
Tel.: +31 (0) 88 890 3600

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