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Chinese project combines vertical farming and greenhouse horticulture

The Jiashan Agriculture Center in China aims to achieve maximum production while using resources and labor by integrating vertical farming with greenhouse cultivation. Moreover, it is a demonstration center that showcases horticulture's contribution to regional food security. The center, which was inaugurated last year, has already announced its expansion plans. Various Dutch parties have contributed to the project.

The center's official name is the 'Jiashan Sino-Dutch Digital Agriculture Science and Technology Innovation Demonstration Center.' From Shanghai, it's a one-hour drive to the center. "This project aims to produce high-quality vegetables while also presenting high-end horticultural solutions to the Chinese market," says Sven Duijvestijn from Artechno. Artecno's AVF+ Hybrid system lies at the heart of the project. In this system, plants' sprouting takes place in a vertical farm, and further cultivation in a greenhouse".

"This enables the rapid and dense cultivation of strong and healthy seedlings," explains Sven. "Controlling and adjusting environmental factors such as temperature, light, humidity, and nutrients creates an ideal environment for the growth of young plants."

At the opening, growers reported a yield of 5300 kg of leafy greens per mu – that's almost 8 kg per m2. They also claim that the multi-layered cultivation system is the largest in Asia. Annually, an area of just 720 m2 cultivates more than 13 million plants, all of which grow to maturity in the 3-hectare greenhouse. They also mentioned that this is the first system in Asia that manages the whole of plants, production, and the company owing to the use of algorithms and real-time monitoring.

It is not easy to develop a system like this. "Combining greenhouses and vertical farming requires careful coordination between the two cultivation systems so they can work seamlessly together and create synergy," continues Sven. "For example, the AVF+ Hybrid system integrates and communicates with the greenhouse infrastructure. Similarly, the greenhouse (where further cultivation takes place) must manage environmental factors for optimal plant growth. Expertise from different disciplines should always be combined to meet these requirements. Fortunately, we have been very successful in this project."

That's not to say that this went easily. Especially not because the project was confronted with the challenges of a pandemic. "Due to travel restrictions and quarantine measures, we initially had to deal with delays. Initially, only a supervisor traveled to China, and on-site, we built a local team, says Sven. "Despite these obstacles, the project was continued and completed thanks to the dedication and flexibility of all parties involved."

These parties include experts in lighting, climate control, and nutrient systems. The installation uses various Dutch technologies. For instance, the floats were developed by Meteor Systems, FoodVentures leads the cultivation company, and the lettuce varieties are from Rijk Zwaan. Well-known partners in the Chinese market, such as Top Greenhouses Ltd., also contributed.

However, as mentioned, this project is not just about production– it also has a demonstrative function. This project should allow parties to get to know what is possible in horticulture. "This project focuses on providing new cultivation solutions for lettuce production," clarifies Sven. "Of course, this also involves competition with traditional open-field cultivation. By combining techniques, growers can produce high-quality lettuce throughout the year, regardless of seasons and weather conditions. This responds to the growing demand for fresh, healthy, and locally produced products."

Expansion plans have already been announced, which, according to Artecho, is good news: "We are very positive about the announced expansion and the growth opportunities in the Chinese market. We look forward to the expansion plans and are convinced that the project is flexible enough to be adjusted to future growth.

For more information:
Artechno Growsytems

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