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How bright is the future of horticulture innovation?

Photo report GreenTech Summit 2015

How will horticulture develop, technically speaking? Are there still humans in the greenhouse or will a operations manager harvest 40 ha from behind his or her laptop? Is the future for rooftop greenhouses really that bright? What will the customer ask tomorrow? And how can we answer that supply if we are looking at the forecasts of raw materials? These were the main topics of discussion during the first GreenTech Summit at the RAI Congress Centre in Amsterdam yesterday.

Click here for the photo report of the GreenTech Summit 2015

This summit is the sequel to the first edition of GreenTech trade show that was held in 2014. Next year, the show will be held in the RAI again. This year, the organization gathered with more than 30 sponsors to make a programme for the future of horticulture. After the opening with Loek Hermans, Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers inspired the audience (and the webstream viewers) with pictures of his experiences in space. Running on a treadmill upside down, eggplants that are growing in all directions and catching M&Ms - all part of the job at the space station ISS. His story became more serious when he illustrated his view on the earth from space and underlined the importance of taking care of our planet.


Will humans still be working in a greenhouse in 20 years? This subject was discussed in the following presentations. Trendwatcher Richard van Hooijdonk is not sure about it. Cultivation robots and sensortechnologies will play an increasingly important role. "The employment in the greenhouse can be declined by 50%. Consequently, the use of crop protection products can be reduced too with the help of robots, by 80%", he predicts. Erik Pekkeriet of Wageningen UR Glastuinbouw and Martijn Wisse showed us how robots currently can be used in a greenhouse. For example, robots that are being commercially used in the Spanish strawberry cultivation and the progression of the SWEEPER-pepper harvesting. But also handling-robots like those of the Dutch company Lacquey and sensors and cameras that enable growers to discover diseases and plagues.

Entrepreneurship: tilapia on the roof

Next to sharing theoretical knowledge, also much attention was given to the commercial implementation of this knowledge at the GreenTech Summit. In break out sessions, entrepreneurs talked about their decisions and current activities. Aquaponic cultivation in the desert for example. Former banker and entrepreneur Faris Farrag is working on this in Egypt for Bustan Aquaponics.

Also the differences between small scale and large scale cultivation was discussed; the 250 m2 sized aquaponic rooftop greenhouse of Urban Farmers in Basel, Switzerland and the 2,000 ha with tomatoes of ZZ2 in South Africa. Both companies are concerned about the sustainability of their production and are spreading this story through the chain and to the end user.

The same counts for the potted plants sector. The British cultivation- and retail company B&Q decided to replace plastic trays with trays of recycled material and to cultivate on cocos instead of peat. Being more sustainable offers them the possibility to distinguish themselves in the market.

Also Agriport A7 is working on this. Robert Kielstra explained how the greenhouse sector needs to cooperate, not only together, but with companies outside the sector in particular. Microsoft for example built up a data center to enable this. At the moment, the energy from the greenhouses are used, but there are also possibilities to exchange heat from the Data centre of Microsoft. Kielstra is currently in consultation with a company from which the residual CO2 can be used. "We looked at what we needed and what we could offer. It is important to look for the right partners" he advised.

Ultramodern or back to nature?

After the break out sessions the focus was on the techniques used in a greenhouse. Bill Watts told us about the Sahara Forest Project. In this Project, vegetables are grown in a greenhouse in the desert of Qatar by using seawater and solar energy.

After this presentation Joseph Simcox took the floor. Simcox stressed that despite all of the technical innovation and progressive techniques, the sector still thinks too narrowly. Everyone works with plants but nobody seems to work with nature. All over the world, he rediscovered tasty and useful species that are currently overlooked. It inspires growers all over the world, but also suppliers. "You are on top regarding techniques, but do not forget nature."

By Arlette Sijmonsma and Boy de Nijs

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