“When asking growers what the most challenging aspect is for them, the unanimous answer was the selection process of the cut hydrangeas.” At 4More Technology, a Dutch company focused on horticultural automation, the team was wondering what the next best automated solution would be. After creating their IRISS Roses machine, which has been assisting Dutch growers for over 6 years, they were looking for a new flower variety to help growers with. That is when their newest IRISS Hydrangea was created. After about a year of making its entrance on the market, Tim van der Elst (Operations Manager) and Wouter Vreugdenhil (Managing Director) reflect on the benefits that the IRISS Hydrangea has provided growers, as well as its future opportunities.
Coen Bukman and Tim van der Elst at the IFTF 2021. In the background is the prototype of their new hydrangea sorting machine.
According to Van der Elst and Vreugdenhil, hydrangeas were an interesting variety for them to focus on. “Hydrangeas are relatively expensive flowers. Therefore, a proper selection process means that the grower is getting the most out of their flowers. Hydrangea growers revealed that the selection process is one of the most challenging aspects for them. Hydrangeas are not grown year-round, which means that growers have to get new seasonal staff each year, with the proper training, to successfully sort the hydrangeas. The selection process is traditionally done manually, by figuring out in which category of flower diameter the flower belongs. Not only is this guesswork, but they also continue to use the same measurements as categories, even if the flower sizes may have changed over the years.” The IRISS Hydrangea camera system, however, takes away this guesswork and can determine the correct measurements.
At the moment, three Dutch growers are being assisted by the camera system, sorting their hydrangeas based on flower diameter, flower surface, flower color, and stem length. “The system does not necessarily save labor, but it does increase the quality of the selection process, and we wanted to provide an affordable way to do so.” After just a year of being at work, the IRISS Hydrangea has been receiving only positive reactions from the growers. “The fact that the selection is more uniform is very beneficial for them. There was even a grower who re-hired one of his previous employees, as the machine was able to improve their work quality.”
Distinguishing green from green
Still, the creation of the camera system was not without its challenges. “While we were able to use our IRISS Roses system as the foundation, the biggest challenge was creating a proper way to measure the flower diameter. When you take a photo from the top of the flower, the leaves are also making an appearance. Therefore, the challenge was to not have the leaves included in the measurements. To add to that challenge is the issue that hydrangea flowers can temporarily be green too. Hhow do you make the system distinguish the green flowers from the green leaves? It may not have been the easiest creation, but we managed to construct a successful system.”
However, the development of the system is not completed yet, as there are future opportunities on the horizon. “Many growers want to combine the existing system with an automated solution for hydrangea handling, in order to save labor and reduce the physical activity it normally takes. The prototype of this machine has been active at a Dutch grower this past season, and they are so positive about the results that they want to install a larger version for next year.” The 4More Technology team also sees great opportunities ahead to introduce their solutions to foreign growers. In addition, they are always on the hunt for new floral challenges for which they can find an automated solution.
For more information:
Tim van der Elst