Florensis takes next step in Plant Empowerment to explore nutrition and resilience. “The Plant Empowerment principles of thinking about the plant balances, linking the physics to the plant physiology to optimally support the plant in keeping itself alive – that really appeals to me. So I bought the Plant Empowerment book as soon as it came out and I’ve read it many times since then."
Having already implemented many of the Plant Empowerment principles in terms of climate control, Florensis has now embarked on an exploration of plant nutrition and resilience. The initial results from trials at one of its three production locations in Ethiopia look promising, with compact plants that also seem to be rooting better. “It’s as if you can forget everything you were taught about plant nutrition at school,” says Ronald Geverinck, Project Manager at Florensis.
The importance of gathering and analyzing
As part of its commitment to reliability, service, people, innovation, and sustainability, Florensis has been working in line with the Plant Empowerment philosophy for a number of years. Ronald Geverinck, who as Project Manager at Florensis bridges the gap between R&D and production, explains: “In my 35 years in the horticultural industry, I’ve always believed in the importance of gathering and analyzing as much information as possible in order to take your production to the next level. When the Plant Empowerment book was published, I realized we were already implementing a lot of the principles here at Florensis. It was great to have confirmation of what we were already doing, and it also motivated us to implement the approach more thoroughly.”
That meant rolling out the philosophy at all Florensis locations worldwide – including in Ethiopia, where the company produces cuttings from mother stocks of numerous varieties of annuals on approximately 45 hectares in total. “I noticed that Hailemariam Dagne, our Agronomy Manager Irrigation & Climate Control in Ethiopia, was immediately enthusiastic about the idea and picked it up straight away,” says Ronald.
Hailemariam recalls: “I first heard about this new approach when Ronald one day asked me to adjust the ventilation in a different way, and I asked him why. The Plant Empowerment principles of thinking about the plant balances, linking the physics to the plant physiology to optimally support the plant in keeping itself alive – that really appeals to me. So I bought the Plant Empowerment book as soon as it came out and I’ve read it many times since then!”
To learn even more about this way of thinking, they both recently participated in the ten-part online Plant Empowerment course, which concluded in February 2022. “For us the biggest revelation was in the area of plant nutrition,” states Ronald. “Sustainability is one of our company’s guiding principles. As part of our commitment to six selected UN Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), we are continuously working to reduce our use of chemical crop protectants through Integrated Pest Management (IPM), helped by Koppert. After reducing our usage by 75% from 2014-2020, we then set ourselves a new target of a further 30% reduction by 2025. The Plant Empowerment course inspired us to take our conversations with Koppert to the next level to explore how we could improve plant resilience through nutrition.”
Better internal quality
Hailemariam adds: “Resilience is very important for us due to our logistics set-up. Our cuttings are shipped from Ethiopia to customers all over the world. In order to meet high-quality demands, the plants need to be able to withstand fluctuations in temperature and humidity that occur during transport. So we’re particularly interested in how the Plant Empowerment and resilient growth principles can help us to improve the internal quality of the plants.”
Florensis recently set up some small-scale trials together with Plant Health consultant Mark van der Werf from Koppert, which is one of the Plant Empowerment Implementation Partners. “Mark has helped us to become aware of the various mineral elements in plant nutrition, and above all how they can interact with one another to affect the quality. Awareness of those interactions, which can be both positive and negative, helps to maintain a better balance by adding or reducing certain elements. This is a completely new approach for us,” continues Ronald.
Different approach to fertilizer
Hailemariam has built his own database to track the progress, which is monitored and analyzed based on extensive sap analysis. “We discuss the results and fine-tune the recipes in monthly online meetings with Mark.” The two men are impressed by the results that have been achieved so far by adjusting the ratios between various elements in the fertilizer. “Normally, optimizing a crop means adding more fertilizer, more nitrogen, and so on. But with Plant Empowerment and resilient growth, we’re discovering that it’s about applying it in a different way, and that can sometimes mean applying less.”
Although it is still a little early to make bold statements about the effect of this new approach to nutrition, Ronald indicates that the initial signs are looking good: “The plants are naturally more compact with lots of internodes, which means we don’t have to use growth regulators in the rooting phase. They also seem to be rooting very well, which is very good news for us. If we can reduce our rooting losses by even 1%, that represents a huge gain based on more than a billion plants per year.”
As a next step, in addition to continuing with the trials in Ethiopia, the learnings are being shared with the rest of the company. “I’m also responsible for organizing and coordinating our internal Green Academy, which annually provides training to around a hundred people across our whole organization, so that is a useful channel for rolling out the Plant Empowerment philosophy,” he explains. “Above all, we want our colleagues to experience for themselves that this approach works at their own locations, rather than just seeing pictures from Ethiopia.” Therefore, the Ethiopian trials have also been replicated at the location in Kenya – again supported by training and monthly online meetings with Mark van der Werf – and Florensis have just started conducting trials of the mother plants and cuttings in the Netherlands too. “In a few years’ time, we believe that the combination of the Plant Empowerment and resilient growth principles on cuttings will also show successful results. We expect this to produce a balanced plant which is healthy and less vulnerable to pests and diseases by ensuring that the various factors affecting plant health and resilience are kept at optimum levels.”
Contributing to new knowledge
“The Plant Empowerment research is traditionally focused on crops such as tomatoes and cucumbers in high-tech greenhouses, and growers of those crops tend to work with a relatively small number of varieties which makes it easier for them to apply the principles,” comments Hailemariam. “In contrast, we’re working with flowering plants rather than fruiting crops, and we’re also dealing with thousands of different varieties. Plus we have a tropical climate here in Ethiopia and Kenya, so it’s a lot more difficult for us to apply the principles on a large, commercial scale. However, we firmly believe that the ornamental horticulture sector could benefit greatly from these insights, which is why we’re pleased to be contributing to building and sharing new knowledge by running these trials.”