LetsGrow.com takes the next step towards autonomous growing. More insight with LetsGrow Livestream

LetsGrow.com has integrated the Google Glass into their smart dashboard and hereby presents the most innovative visual data support to date; the LetsGrow Livestream. With the use of the Google Glass, it is now possible to enter a greenhouse without setting foot over the threshold. With the LetsGrow Livestream one is digitally ‘in control’ and able to get an even better picture of the crop from a distance.

Digital innovation

In 2020, LetsGrow.com introduced Digital Crop Management. High-quality photos and videos from the greenhouse stream to a central dashboard on the MyLetsGrow platform. The addition of these images are now indispensable in many growing strategies of growers and crop consultants worldwide. The LetsGrow Livestream is a logical next step. Especially at a time when it is increasingly difficult to be physically present at every location at all times. Using sharp images and voice options it is possible to view the crop in more detail. As a user in the greenhouse, you have your hands free to properly visualize the desired parts of the crop. In addition, the viewer can indicate, using speech options, what he would like to take a closer look at. This interaction ensures that the right insights are gained and the desired results are achieved.

The advantages of the LetsGrow Livestream are huge. You get to see a detailed picture with which the right information is available, communication is easy by voice, there is a larger span of control and it saves time.

The next step towards autonomous cultivation

With LetsGrow Livestream, LetsGrow.com takes the next step towards autonomous growing and raises remote monitoring and guidance to an even higher level.

Ton van Dijk, Global Head of Sales and Operations at LetsGrow.com explains: “LetsGrow.com is there to optimize business processes and results for all stakeholders such as investors, growers and advisors. Nowadays, visiting a greenhouse is not always possible and also entering a greenhouse is not without risk. Viruses lie in wait. In addition, greenhouses are located all over the world and there is a lot of travel back and forth between the various locations. The Google Glass offers a solution in these situations and makes it possible to get in touch with each other more often and more easily. In addition, one can see the live images, together with the climate and crop data and any photos, side by side on a dashboard in the MyLetsGrow platform. Correlations between what is seen and what the data indicates can therefore be quickly and easily detected. This enables a grower or crop consultant to respond even better to what is happening. It is like looking over each other’s shoulders. The LetsGrow Livestream is one in a series of innovations that LetsGrow.com will be rolling out shortly”.

Order now! 
The LetsGrow LiveStream with the Google Glass is available from today. Are you making the next step in Data Driven Growing, are you looking for a more efficient way of communicating with real-time visual data? Then get in touch with your regular contact person at LetsGrow.com or fill in the contact form.

Gebr. van Duijn

The Gebr. Van Duijn eggplant nursery has been growing high quality eggplants for many years. The company, founded in 1962, has expanded and innovated considerably over the years. In total, the greenhouses of Gebr. Van Duijn cover an area of over 27.5 hectares. These are distributed over three locations in Westdorpe (12.5 hectare), Steenbergen (8.5 hectare) and Oosterland (6.5 hectare) in the provinces of North Brabant and Zeeland in the Netherlands. At all locations of this grower eggplants are carefully grown and the plant is central. Gebr. Van Duijn’s eggplants grow on the rootstock of a tomato plant. This rootstock contributes to a constant and efficient growth of the crop. The rootstock of the plant gives the assurance that the root maintains a constant growth, ultimately resulting in high quality eggplants. Gebr. Van Duijn uses the LetsGrow.com platform for different ways of data collection, visualization and analysis.

Taking data to the next level

We spoke with Luuk van Duijn, Since 2016 he is the head grower of Gebr. Van Duijn at location Steenbergen and since 2019 also of location Westdorpe. Luuk is no stranger to LetsGrow.com. He did an internship at LetsGrow.com during his studies in horticulture and arable farming at the HAS in Den Bosch. Gebr. Van Duijn is affiliated with the Growers United cooperative and is working on Digital Crop Management with the growers of the Purple Pride product group via the LetsGrow.com platform. When Luuk joined the company in 2016, a start was made to expand the use of LetsGrow.com at Gebr. Van Duijn. Luuk adds; “Because there are many locations that all generate data in their own way, it is important to have the same platform that makes all data transparent. Then the data is lifted to a higher level and it is comparable. “First of all, we then started comparing climate data from different locations. Then the first step was taken towards crop registrations and comparing plant and water samples.” Today, LetsGrow.com retrieves data from manual registrations, the climate computer, various sensors, the grader and takes pictures of the crop. All this data comes together clearly on the dashboards of Gebr. Van Duijn on the MyLetsGrow platform.

Comparing climate data was the first step. Luuk explains: “Comparing the climate data of the different locations was already done at 24-hour level, but actually this data gave too little useful information. You can put two growers next to each other with a 24-hour period of 22 degrees. But if one grower has a flat heating system and the other uses a dif-strategy of 4 degrees, this ultimately results in a different type of plant. A period of, for example, day or night or a shorter period would therefore be more accurate in this case. With LetsGrow.com five-minute data is even possible”.

The expansion of LetsGrow.com with accurate crop registration

The goal of Gebr. Van Duijn is to visualize even more data via LetsGrow.com. “With LetsGrow.com we are able to support choices in cultivation with factual data. In this way we can ultimately take our operating result to a higher level”. Luuk indicates that the modules with climate, water and meteo are among his favorites; “This is the module that started it all and is used the most by me and my colleagues. Every day you can make real-time comparisons with colleagues and other locations. This ensures that we have a good insight into the developments in the crop”.

The use of LetsGrow.com by Gebr. Van Duijn has been increasingly expanded in recent years. For example, they have also started with eggplant crop registration. Luuk explains: “Previously, each grower from each location kept their own crop registration. By entering this together via the LetsGrow.com app, fewer and fewer unnecessary mistakes are made in the calculations. There is also a gain in time. There is now a fixed moment when the registrations are done and so you can directly compare the data with other data, such as the climate. It is also easy to give future colleagues insight into the data, because the data is well preserved. This secure storage of our data also ensures that we can use that data again in the future.”

A future with Machine Learning

When we ask Luuk about his goal for the coming years, the answer is clear: “Our goal is to link even more data to the LetsGrow.com platform. The possibilities in the field of Machine Learning are in full development. If we can now ensure that our data is transparent and that people learn to work with the data in the right way, this will ensure that we can respond quickly in the future. For example, when developments offer us opportunities.

Gebr. Van Duijn is working hard on this goal and this year, in collaboration with Purple Pride and LetsGrow.com, they even started developing a working harvest prognosis for their eggplants. Luuk explains: “Every year there were a number of moments when prognosis was wrong. A pity, because it could be more accurate. LetsGrow.com helps us with this. During a bi-weekly meeting, we meet with the growers from various locations and discuss the results of the new harvest prognosis. In this way we find the missing link in, for example, our registrations or data use. By uncovering these errors, we can fine-tune the harvest forecast and use it even more optimally.”

The fine-tuning of the prognosis ensures that expansion is possible. A link has now even been made with their Aweta grading system: “In the eggplants we work with different weight classes and the intention is that we forecast these weight classes towards our sales. Because when we have a clear picture of what the predicted production per weight class will be, sales can respond to this. This data is therefore essential for us”, says Luuk.

It’s clear that Gebr. Van Duijn, in collaboration with Purple Pride and LetsGrow.com, will continue to innovate in the coming years, but ultimately only a few things are important to this grower, namely growth, attention and pleasure. This is what brings them success according to Luuk. Of course, we at LetsGrow.com agree with this.

Den Berk Délice

Plant Empowerment will help us to generate optimal growth with every square metre”
Since first introducing the Plant Empowerment principles around 18 months ago, Belgian tomato producer Den Berk Délice has made several changes and is already experiencing numerous benefits. Grower Lucas Aertsen explains more in this interview.

Lucas Aertsen is head grower at the 9.6ha tomato production facility of Salmmeir BV in the Belgian town of Rijkevorsel. This company – part of the Den Berk Délice group which has a total of 60ha of production across six locations – has a strong reputation for supplying high-quality and flavoursome specialty tomatoes to major retailers throughout Europe. Its main varieties are the red cherry tomatoes Axiany and Sweetelle, plus a number of others for the production of colour mixes.

Lucas has been working in the greenhouse sector since graduating with a degree in bioengineering from Leuven University around five years ago. “What I love about my role is that it’s so broad,” comments Lucas. “In addition to plant biology, I’m involved in new technology and IT, the energy market and, in view of our expansion plans, even construction.” A brand-new 7.2ha greenhouse is currently being constructed, where the first crops will be planted in late August. Besides that, another 8.5ha facility is being added at the end of this year with production scheduled to start in March/April 2022.

Transforming expertise into data

“Our company is expanding so fast that we really need to be data-driven. A couple of years ago we had six or seven growers, but there are now around ten of us and next year there will be 15. Most of the new recruits are relatively young and less experienced. So we asked ourselves how we could transform the expertise of our more experienced growers into data to help the new growers get up to speed quickly,” explains Lucas. In this context, Den Berk Délice installed the LetsGrow.com data platform around 18 months ago and has been working in line with the Plant Empowerment concept ever since.

Better comparisons

“Before the LetsGrow.com data platform was installed, we used to have a weekly meeting of all the growers from all the different companies in the group so we could discuss the results from our crops and varieties together. This entailed a lot of Excel sheets and printouts from the climate computer, and the preparation was very time-consuming. Nowadays, the previous day’s climate data is automatically sent to each manager via LetsGrow.com and we receive an overview once a week, plus we can always use our own dashboard at any time. This makes it much easier to access reliable data as the basis for comparing and discussing crop performance,” he adds.

To help Den Berk Délice get the most out of the Plant Empowerment principles, the company has been receiving training since October 2020. “All our growers attend a two-hour online session once every two weeks. The theory from the various chapters in the book forms the basis, but the course is also tailored to our own real-life situation,” comments Lucas. “We use our own dashboard and explore the balances, such as water, energy, assimilates, the influence of the screening strategy and so on, based on topical issues. The course is presented by experts from LetsGrow.com and Hoogendoorn Growth Management with input from the other Plant Empowerment implementation partners behind the scenes.”

The ‘Growing by Plant Empowerment’ cultivation method has evolved from the principles of Het Nieuwe Telen (‘Next Generation Growing’), which have been tested and proved around the world ever since first being developed in the Netherlands by P.A.M Geelen, J.O. Voogt and P.A.M. van Weel in 2005. In 2016, the founders wrote a book called ‘Growing by Plant Empowerment’ to explain this integrated approach. It is based on physics and plant physiology and focuses on keeping all the plant balances in equilibrium. Data is continuously collected and analysed during the cultivation process to monitor how the greenhouse conditions are affecting crop performance as the basis for decision-making. The concept is actively supported by a multidisciplinary team of six official Plant Empowerment Implementation Partners, including Saint-Gobain Cultilene, LetsGrow.com, Hoogendoorn Growth Management, Ludvig Svensson, Koppert Biological Systems and Hortilux Schreder. LetsGrow.com is the official publisher of the book.

Sharing knowledge

“We don’t want to be an inward-looking company – we believe it’s important to stay in touch with the market to hear about the latest developments, share knowledge and gain new insights that will help us to continuously improve. And our contact with the Plant Empowerment implementation partners plays a key role in that,” he continues.

Above all, Lucas has noticed that working in line with the Plant Empowerment principles has shifted the focus from subjective intuition to objective data. “That creates some lively discussions!” he says. “We have a very experienced grower on our team who has been in the tomato business for more than 20 years. We see it as a challenge to convince him to let us try things out based on the data insights, and it’s satisfying to see him gaining confidence in the data when he sees that it actually works.”

Support for decision-making

The rootzone is one area in which those data insights have made a big difference. In spring 2020, Den Berk Délice worked with Saint-Gobain Cultilene to install CARA MET sensors which continuously monitor the water content, temperature and EC in the substrate and communicate wirelessly via the cloud. All the data is displayed in the Saint-Gobain Cultilene dashboard on the LetsGrow.com platform. “This really supports our decision-making. Flavour is very important for us; we aim for a brix of 10.5 in our tomatoes to achieve the desired sweetness. The brix value is mainly influenced by the EC in the substrate, so if the brix drops below 10 that’s the first thing we look at – and we now have that data constantly at our fingertips.”

All the data has revealed some interesting interactions, according to Lucas: “For example, we can monitor both the EC and the radiation level changing throughout the day to identify when it’s the best time to reduce the EC. And last year, the data enabled us to experiment with the EC reduction in combination with both our irrigation and ventilation strategy. In the right combination, the plants stayed active for longer and were much better balanced in terms of photosynthesis and keeping themselves cool, with no plant stress.”

Prioritizing humidity

Another change resulting from the Plant Empowerment approach has been a better understanding of the role of humidity and screening. “In the past we were focused mainly on the temperature in the greenhouse, but thanks to the data insights, we’re increasingly using humidity to create an active climate – particularly in the spring and summer – by balancing our ventilation, lighting and heating strategies in line with the outdoor conditions,” says Lucas. “And our screen supplier Ludvig Svensson, another Plant Empowerment implementation partner, helped us to develop a screening strategy to maintain the optimal temperature, not only in the greenhouse but also in the plants themselves. On cold days, we now use screening more intensively to prevent energy loss from the top of the plants; it’s important to keep them warm to stimulate active growth. However, we always leave the screens around 15-20% open to allow the moisture to escape. So overall, we’re much more focused on achieving the right moisture balance – both in terms of what the plants receive and what they produce.”

The new greenhouse currently being built at the Salmmeir facility will be fitted with a hybrid top-lighting system including LEDs at 265 mmol rather than the 180mmol currently used. “Now that we have even better control over the climate and can maintain a better plant balance thanks to the Plant Empowerment approach, we believe we can work with higher light intensities and for longer periods. Some varieties will perform better under more light than others, of course, so it will still be a matter of combining the data with our own insights and experimenting with things like plant spacings. But the data gives us an excellent basis to start from.”

Sustainability

Last but not least, sustainability is important for Den Berk Délice. For example, the company is continuously working to further enhance its closed-loop water system, plus it is building a new storage and sorting facility which will be equipped with solar panels and be directly connected to a local industrial park’s network for thermal energy recovery. “Growing in line with the Plant Empowerment principles also supports a sustainable approach,” states Lucas. “As the agrifood industry continues to scale up, data will enable growers to manage ever-larger crop production areas. Plus by sharing knowledge, gaining new insights and optimizing our use of the very latest technologies, we can generate a better yield from every square metre with the optimum use of resources – and that’s what I personally find most important,” he concludes.

Van Lipzig Tuinderijen

Over the past 20 years LetsGrow.com has welcomed a large number of loyal clients. This includes Van Lipzig Tuinderijen. They are a family business that specializes in growing high quality cucumbers. By maintaining planting balances, this data driven and innovative organization has learned how to grow strong and resilient cucumber crops.

With years of experience growing roses, Peter van Ninhuys joined Van Lipzig Tuinderijen as Cultivation Manager in 2017. “At that time, Van Lipzig Tuinderijen was looking for a Cultivation Manager with a fresh perspective to implement the principles of Plant Empowerment,” Peter indicates. Within a three year timeframe, Peter learned how to grow a stronger, more resilient cucumber crop with a more healthy root zone. The organization used a step-by-step approach, constantly looking for the limiting factor of their growing process. By doing so, the organization prevented diseases and optimized crop photosynthesis.

Eye-openers for optimum returns from light use
Peter: “Last year we put the Plant Empowerment principle into practice even more. We adjusted our ventilation strategy by ventilating the leeward and windward sides of the greenhouse at exactly the same time. This results in a more even growing climate, better humidity and a reduction in indoor temperature.” The company attaches great importance to real-time insight into the growth factors of the crop, in order to optimize and standardize all these different growth factors. Peter emphasizes, “climate management is the core of my daily routine, analyzing and improving all growth factors by using the process computer of Hoogendoorn Growth Management and the platform MyLetsGrow from LetsGrow.com”.

Various products from LetsGrow.com are in use at Van Lipzig Tuinderijen to gain even more insights. One of these is the Thermoview 48™. This can map the warmest, coldest and average temperature. It also show and capture a picture in both thermal image and plain visual image. All of this data is easily viewed through MyLetsGrow.

With the Thermoview 48™ it is easy to monitor whether the head of the plant is not cooling down too much. This overview shows that the screens close at 3 pm because of an approaching rainstorm. As a result, the cucumber remains warmer than the temperature of the environment and the plant itself for up to three hours. For Peter, the Thermoview 48™ has become an indispensable link within the horticultural organization.

They also work with the Trutina system. Thanks to the Trutina system, Peter is able to analyze crop behavior, resulting in the generation of insights that allow him to better understand the needs of his crop and adjust the cultivation strategy to achieve the highest possible yield.

Empowering cucumbers through digitalization
Peter continues: “Growing cucumbers brings challenges on a daily basis. After all, the growing climate needs to be monitored 24/7. By digitalizing our processes with LetsGrow.com, we are able to empower our crop. By using the climate monitor of LetsGrow.com, fact-based decision making is possible. Peter: “If at any time I am not satisfied with the appearance of a crop, I always analyze the facts and figures.

LetsGrow.com makes it possible to read in, visualize and analyze all crop data. All this is easily displayed on MyLetsGrow. Every greenhouse grower can connect to LetsGrow.com to gain insight into what is happening in the greenhouse. By making smart use of your own data, we provide analyses and advice that lead to higher returns; including quality improvements in production and accurate harvest forecasts.

Maintain your crop balance during winter

Moving towards Christmas and New Year’s Eve is known that in most countries worldwide, radiation levels are decreasing which results in a drop of outside temperature and humidity increase. Such conditions could decrease plant development and growth while increase risks such as condensation on leaves and botrytis. Therefore, below you can find several tips in order to protect your crop and maintain it in balance.

Tip 1 | Microbes
Support your plants from the very beginning. Since creating a strong root system is essential for the overall crop cycle; this can be assisted by introducing beneficial microbes into your substrate.

Tip 2 | Air movement
Ensure a sufficient air movement especially during night to decrease the boundary layer effect and support a minimum transpiration rate and therefore plant activity.

Tip 3 | Energy screen
Deploy your energy screen to prevent heat emission and hence cold heads which can lead to a growth restriction for your plants. Additionally, by using your energy screen  humidity transfer characteristics in the most optimal way you will decrease energy consumption, and above all increase you greenhouse climate homogeneity.

Tip 4 | Plant temperature sensor
“What’s get measured gets managed!”. Use an infra-red sensor in order to measure your plant temperature and test how your canopy reacts according to the actions/controls that you make.

Tip 5 | Irrigation
Do not over-irrigate. Definitely, due to low radiation levels, transpiration rate is being reduced. Therefore, by supplying water to your plants according to the evaporation energy or radiation levels will support your root zone to maintain the optimal water content and oxygen levels.

Tip 6 | Irrigation water temperature
Monitor your root zone temperature. There are several cases of greenhouses that water basins are being placed outside. This means that irrigation water is directly being affected by outside conditions. In case of low temperatures that could result in a root zone temperature of lower than 15°C. This can create limited water uptake to the plants and condensation on plant parts.

Tip 7 | Bumblebees and pollination
Bumblebees and pollination. In case of artificial light usage, be aware that the spectrum is different compared to outside radiation. In combination with too little natural light this could mislead the bumblebees and decrease the number of the colony, hence decrease pollination.

The above mentioned tips are being provided in order to maintain the plant in balance and increase your resource use efficiency. Certainly, greenhouse construction and equipment can vary, hence adjust these tips in the extend that support your own greenhouse.

Finally, our main suggestion is always to start with a plan for greenhouse climate and crop itself. By making a plan, you are aware of your goals and if there is a need for adjustments. This could characterise you as pro-active grower. A grower in control!

Student Eric applied math in a greenhouse

Math and gerberas. Strict formulas and colourful flowers. This combination may not seem obvious when you think you know everything about intersections, parabola, logarithms, sine and cosine. That doesn’t stop Applied Mathematics student Eric van der Sluis from doing great work for LetsGrow.com. He developed a model for the company to detect and track gerberas. Thanks to his work, every gerbera grower can closely follow how fast each plant grows and when it will be ready to harvest.

So you are a math whizz. But what can you do with it later? For Eric that was quite clear four years ago. He wanted to use his math skills to help a company perform better. Now that he has almost graduated, he still has this goal. “During my internship I worked with gerberas. But the possibilities for Applied Mathematics are much broader. I can develop software for a company. Or work on data analysis.”

Detection and tracking
“I developed a new detection and tracking model for gerbera growers who are a customer at LetsGrow.com. Take the example of that one grower. He wants to know how his plants are doing, when he can harvest them and when they will be ready for auction. One option would be to inspect the greenhouses every day but it would be much easier to place a camera in the gerbera greenhouse. Every day it takes a new picture of the gerberas. I have given every flower its own identity. This allows the grower to track each plant until it’s ready to harvest. Based on the images that are stored in the cloud, he will know exactly how many flowers he will be able to harvest, how many new flowers will grow in a day or a week and if some batches are growing better than others. He can see it all in once glance on his computer. This is much more efficient than inspecting the greenhouses every day.”

30 great colleagues overnight
His internship at LetsGrow.com was Eric’s first introduction to the private sector. “It greatly expanded my world. I suddenly gained 30 fun, young colleagues. After a while I had gotten to know everyone. It was a new experience for me to work every day from 8 am to 4.30 pm and to meet the expectations of your colleagues.”

Source: The Hague University of Applied Sciences

New MyLetsGrow dashboards now available 

At LetsGrow.com we like to keep innovating and to make MyLetsGrow more user-friendly. That is why we have renewed the functionalities and visualization of our dashboards.

LetsGrow.com converts data into information, by supporting growers in understanding their data, growers can make decisions and optimize their growing process. We create custom courses specifically designed based on the wishes and needs of our customer.

We innovate and change together; our customers are central to this. The user experiences and the wishes of the customers are our driving force. In order to support our customers as fully as possible, it is extra important that the data is displayed and made available as clearly as possible. In this way, growers can quickly and easily work independently with their data.

Spanish webinar: Yield Prediction

LetsGrow.com is organising a Spanish-speaking webinar, which is held on 10th September 2020. Our experts will explain our customers and other people of interest from around the world how LetsGrow.com applies AI to optimise the growing process(es). Main reason; to increase the customers’ efficiency and to create an accurate yield prediction.

In just one hour of your time, our experts would inform you about the LetsGrow.com-tools that make your business more profitable, anticipating the market, obtaining better sales prices, improving your responsiveness and planning.

AI: Machine Learning
Technological advances have allowed us to move rapidly towards a world where computers play an indispensable role; not just to manage and store information. Today’s machine learning systems have helped us extending our senses and reasoning abilities, allowing us to solve complex problems in a short time and giving us the opportunity to make better decisions.

Artificial Intelligence systems have the ability to learn, analyse and correlate large amounts of information in a short time, which makes it the perfect tool to solve issues such as Yield Prediction. Thus, Machine Learning opens the doors to obtain better results, optimise our businesses and improve our action plans.

Register
Would you like to participate in this webinar? Click here to register.

Improving shareability of cultivation knowledge

Companies are searching for tools to optimize their crops and yields. Performing data analyses, and discussing the ensuing results, may contribute towards improved insight into limiting cultivation factors. Clear and consistent communication about that data enables reliable and productive knowledge and experience sharing.

Nowadays, manually maintaining a bird eye’s view of the enormous amount of available data becomes increasingly impossible. Data analysis programmes, capable of connecting cultivation factors and providing insight into the limiting factor, offer a solution.

There are instances where cultivation measures, selected by humans, have a positive impact on short-term production, while the computer-produced prognoses show substantial negative long-term consequences for the crop. For example, with crops grown under artificial lighting that exit the long and dark winter season.

Growing based on objective cultivation data and data analyses also increases the ease with which data can be captured and knowledge shared. This secures valuable company knowledge when, for example, one or more managers leave. Transferring human cultivation experiences (‘green thumbs’) often proves a challenge.

Reviewing data requires focus, to prevent erroneous conclusions from being drawn. Two cultivation factors running in parallel within a simple comparison chart, do not necessarily prove an actual fixed causal link between them.

Independent crop consultant Peter Geelen: “For example, Vapour Pressure Difference (VPD) correlates with the evaporation rate. But if you assume you can increase evaporation by increasing the VPD, then you are assuming an incorrect cause-effect relationship. The evaporation rate is actually dependent on the energy supply, like radiation. The crop influences the VPD through its stomata openings. Which, in turn, depend on the water availability inside the leaf.

Comparability
A discussion among growers about cultivation data and data analyses creates added insight, and makes it possible to compare the results of various cultivation locations. However, clear and consistent communication about this topic requires a critical examination of how data is being monitored.

“When you really start growing based on data, it makes the data you capture much more reliable. That is often the first benefit you will get.” Like having a uniform method for capturing setting and average fruit weight across all of your locations.

Independent crop advisor Peter Geelen: “You could capture actual kilogram production in ten different ways. For comparison purposes, it is of much higher importance that you do so consistently rather than how you measure.”

The need for clarity and consistency also applies to the review and comparison of yields between years or cultivation locations. To this end, Light Use Efficiency (LUE) offers much better insight than solely looking at the kilogram production. Growers who have been working with a LUE analysis for longer (see the article on page 22), can tell that their plant load is better suited to the (expected) light sum year round. Then a decrease in plant load or stem density can be beneficial for growing at higher temperatures, which in turn makes it easier to control moisture and to efficiently handle CO2. As long as the proper light-temperature ratio is maintained, a quicker fruit maturation does not have to negatively affect production.

The next step is to determine the light-temperature ratio based on the PAR light inside the greenhouse, rather than the amount of joules outdoors. Then the impact of lighting, screening and white washing can easily be calculated based on the light sum available to the crop. The PAR sum in the greenhouse can be measured with PAR sensors. Additionally, outside light can be converted to PAR light inside the greenhouse, if the light transmission of greenhouse roof, screen or coating are known.

Unequivocalness
Babel-like confusion easily occurs when comparing crop data and yields. Therefore, entrepreneurs from several large companies wanted to ensure that all of their crop managers would be on the same page. As part of the Next Generation Growing framework, they have set up meetings to bring everyone to the same level of knowledge and to ensure that everyone speaks ‘the same language’. Sometimes even upper management and crop consultants are included in these sessions, simply to further unify communication about cultivation situations and decisions.

Geelen, who guides such groups: “To avoid situations where one grower thinks of a very different plant balance when he’s discussing ‘generative crops’ than another. Or, another example, where one person speaks extensively of the ‘energy balance’ in his plants while the other person does not have a clear image in his head of what this Next Generation Growing term means. Therefore causing resistance and incomprehension.”

Additionally, the personal views of growers and crop managers are examined through data reviews. Sometimes discussion groups have turned a growing method, such as a generative crop, into a goal all on its own, rather than selectively applying it to reach a certain desired crop result. Continuously attempting to reach such a generative crop may limit the stomata activity, if data analysis shows that the LUE is suboptimal because other climate factors have become limiting.

To keep an eye on the limiting factor at all times, LetsGrow.com has developed a number of modules, such as the climate monitor and the plant balance module. They are tools that help keep track of the many interrelating factors. According to Geelen, these tools help guide, improve and compare crops.

Source: Groenten & Fruit | Author: Peter Visser

Moving towards Data Driven Growing

Climate control is typically based on measurements of what is occurring, what has occurred, and then responding accordingly. However, nowadays, growers are increasingly searching for insight in likely future scenarios so they may respond with foresight instead. Data analysis could offer a valuable contribution to their efforts.

One company that is both actively and highly involved in practical data applications is LetsGrow.com. Many growers are familiar with their comparison platform for climate and other company registration data. Undeniably, this offering has played a major role in its success. However, as time progressed, LetsGrow.com has shifted their emphasis towards Data Driven Growing solutions.

Growers have become highly capable of figuring out why their crop visibly reacted in certain ways, and in responding suitably. With large amounts of data now being captured, both crop consultants and growers have turned to asking themselves if they could also predictively calculate their crop’s reactions.

How will current greenhouse configurations, combined with expected outside climate conditions, affect the plant with regards to e.g., production, odds of odds of fungal diseases energy management or the influence of temperature differences inside the greenhouse? How could I further align climate settings and irrigation to the crop’s development and plant’s needs?

Growers prefer checking upfront which option offers optimal results, and what configurations are required to reach the desired outcome. Common Excel programmes, when attempting to process the enormous amounts of available data, appear to fall short in truly uncovering what is within the realm of possibility.

Crop models
Great, explanatory plant physiological crop models are a basic necessity where data-driven and predictive growing are concerned. This allows LetsGrow.com to take advantage of the building blocks of its conception: providing growers with plant models developed by the WUR. It is a conscious decision to teach plant physiologists data skills rather than letting data specialists tackle horticultural applications.

Peter Hendriks, explains why this decision was made: “Although it is possible to pile all available data together and to start drawing conclusions from it, you would be at risk of making massive mistakes. The required knowledge of horticulture and plant physiology is not something that is easily acquired. Before you are able to effectively grow in a data-driven way, you have to understand both the processes taking place inside the greenhouse and the plant physiology at play, really well.” Although, there are, of course, mathematicians and specialised data scientists at work in the background to effectively process the data.

Valuable data
The amount of available data equals the amount of data available for analysis. Hendriks: “So I urge you not to rush into thinking ‘this data doesn’t serve me right now’. Save everything. You should see the amazing analyses we are able to perform based on company registration data that had been captured for five years or longer. Data that growers never used before, because they had little understanding of its potential yet.

Data sophistication greatly contributes to the reliability of analyses. So it is worth considering increasing your setting and coarseness counting frequency if, for example, you are only doing so once a week for a general indication.

There is so much more to be registered and calculated, but the outcome largely depends on the accuracy of the available data. Only accurate data can be effectively analysed and delivers reliable conclusions. “So please do not calibrate your sensors and measuring equipment solely for the purpose of direct climate regulation. Incorrect calibration also results in loss of valuable data for later analysis. If you are not careful, you will always, regardless of what you do, continue to bring those mistakes in your data with you.”

Instead of blindly trusting computer generated advice based on data analyses, it is good to realise that all changes in data tell us a story. “When something truly out of the ordinary happens, there is typically a very logical reason behind. With data analysis, it is crucial to find that reason first or you are at risk of drawing incorrect conclusions from that data. Simply put: could an external occurrence offer a valid explanation, e.g., storm damage or a disease outbreak?”

Balance
Data analyses are a welcome addition to human cultivation knowledge. Every grower has his ‘green thumbs’ and his own interpretation of cultivation data, which he applies to regulate the greenhouse climate. However, especially large scale companies, as well as growers working together within an association, are regularly confronted with differences in yield or crop position between cultivation sites, which are beyond explanation based on an exchange of opinions alone.

LetsGrow.com ascertains that production differences among cultivation sites can be explained with data analyses, even down to the level of screen usage, window positioning or use of other cultivation equipment. You can trace back why these things happen.

An analysis that proved highly useful is optimising the light-temperature ratio, using the grower’s own climate data. Plotting each day’s average 24-hour temperature and light sum has created a great foundation for gaining insight in the plant balance. The model that was developed for crops’ light use efficiency (LUE, in grams of production per megajoule of radiation sum) tries to find the ideal combination of (and balance between) light, humidity, temperature and CO2. It also takes into consideration that the amount of light in, for example, week 21 does not correlate with the production in week 21, but has a delayed effect on production.

The often occurring wide spread of LUE at companies shows that there is potential for improved use of light. By identifying and eliminating the limiting factor with the greatest negative effect on light use efficiency, many growers have reached production increases of up to several percent. And sometimes there is no limiting factor present, and it could turn out that higher light availability offers potential for an even higher plant load and production.

LetsGrow.com translates conclusions from data analyses to actions the growers can take. Hendriks: “Only, we do not take those actions for them. We simply inform the grower whether he is still following the ‘ideal’ line, and what he could have done. It is not our intention to replace the grower, but rather to ensure that he is empowered to improve his decision-making, or to enable him to manage a larger greenhouse area.” Although, besides decision-making support, there are growing aspects ready for automation right now. “Being required to change climate settings several times a day on the climate computer should not be a thing in today’s world.”

Sensors
Sensors that are capable of detecting changes invisible to the human eye, right now or at a later stage, support improved cultivation-related decision-making. There is a substantial increase in sensors hitting the market, including juice flow meters, fruit temperature meters, radiation meters, thermal imaging camera’s up to and including mobile fruit counting robots.

Especially wireless sensors – which provide multiple measuring points in the greenhouse – contribute to added insight. One grower was able to use data analysis to explain why the façade side of the greenhouse consistently yielded more than the same crop row located closer to the middle path. Eventually, he even went as far as adjusting the architectural structure of his greenhouse, because this offered him an optimal balance befitting of his company-specific situation.

Hendriks: “The technology is coming to you. There are so many additional sensors coming towards you, along with the added data they capture, it becomes impossible to maintain a bird’s eye view. Our vision is to create value from all of this data. With a shift from the familiar approach of measuring and reacting to having foresight and acting pre-emptively instead. To maintain a sustainable line that keeps your crop in balance, rather than thinking: ‘Oh no, something’s wrong!’ and being forced to suddenly correct instead. The question ‘what should I do next’ then finally derives from a pre-emptive ‘I see something happening in my data’ rather than a late response to ‘I see something happening to my crop’.”

Artificial Intelligence
Whenever data analysis is involved, growers will often hear buzz words such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and self-learning data systems (Machine Learning). Although they realise that computers are capable of creating many analyses on their own, and their outcomes have become increasingly accurate with time, still, it is often unclear these technological terms really mean.

Hendriks tries to explain: “Traditional models are programmed based on research outcomes spanning multiple years and registrations in a computer programme. For example: if my greenhouse temperature increases by a degree, what would happen with the maturation rate? This allows the programme to calculate the consequences, enabling predictions of current or expected cultivation circumstances.”

“Machine Learning, which is part of the broader Artificial Intelligence domain, requires entering results (such as kilogram yields or crops responses) from the past into a computer, combined with the climate data from the same period. The computer analyses and determines its own interrelationships, and takes these to create its own predictive programme. It’s a much faster and very accurate way of predicting the effects of new actions taken.”

Source: Groenten & Fruit | Author: Peter Visser