In the cut hydrangea industry, great strides have been made in recent years in distribution and production, but as far as 'handling' (harvesting and sorting) is concerned, they often do everything by eye. This is fine, of course, but as 4More Technology discovered, there are gains to be made in uniformity and labour. The new IRISS Hydrangea does exactly that, as three growers can testify.
The IRISS has been known for some years in the rose business. In more than 20 locations, the camera system, often integrated in a bunch line, is used to select roses on uniformity. The camera registers all conceivable characteristics: thickness and height of the bud, ripeness and crookedness, and thickness and length and even curvature of the stem. This is a technology that has already been implemented in the selection of cut flowers such as tulips and chrysanthemums.
The current setup at Peeters Hortensias in Zevenbergen. On the right is the camera system, on the left the sorting belt.
But not yet in hydrangeas. There are a number of reasons for this. "There are bunching lines but they are very expensive", says Wouter Vreugdenhil, general manager of 4More Technology. "In the cut hydrangeas, of which there are now more than 100 growers (we have about 70-80 in the picture, but according to CBS it should be a lot more), those areas are smaller. Moreover, there are fewer one-metre stems and growers are often not in production for all months, which has serious consequences for staffing levels: the following year, new people arrive, who have to be instructed again."
Therefore, in practice, apart from odd occasions with systems improvised by the grower themselves, hardly anything was automated in terms of selection until now. Until 4More Technology, in search of some expansion, and after extensive market research, discovered that camera technology can also be used in hydrangea.
Last year, the first stand-alone camera system was installed at three growers: Van der Spek Hydrangeas from Moerkapelle, Kwekerij Greeve from Berkel en Rodenrijs, and Peeters Hortensias from Zevenbergen. The grower/employee passes the flower by hand in front of the camera, which tells him within milliseconds what the stem length, bulb diameter, bulb colour and roundness of the bulb is. Based on this data and the settings put in place by the grower, a grading is also determined immediately. This means that the employee no longer has to hesitate. Wouter: "That saves a lot of time!"
Last winter 4MT also designed a sorting and cutting machine for hydrangeas. After being photographed, the flower is placed on a V-belt. Next, it is cut and classified into one of the categories. The prototype was installed at the beginning of this season at Peeters Snijhortensia's. "It is a first edition, and the necessary improvements have already been made. But it is now working well and stable and it saves a lot of labour, especially since hydrangea is an extremely voluminous product. Every action makes a huge difference."
4More Technology was founded a decade ago and was initially active in sensors for field management. With the IRISS technology, it brought new camera technology to horticulture - in 2016, the first prototype was installed at Rozenhof in Moerkapelle (this company no longer exists) and subsequently at at least 20 more rose growers. Now the technology has been further developed in terms of software and mechanics for use in cut hydrangea. For the sake of recognition, the name IRISS, which actually stands for Intelligent Rose Inspection & Sorting System, has been retained, at least for now.
Click here for more information on the IRISS Hydrangea.