Berg Hortimotive in De Lier (NL) has been successfully working with Wageningen University & Research on robotics in the agricultural sector for many years. HortiKey, a subsidiary of Berg Hortimotive, recently partnered with Wageningen University & Research to develop the Plantalyzer, a machine which gives accurate harvest projections for tomatoes.
“I am a true entrepreneur and innovative business is in my DNA,” says Bas Lagerwerf, general director of Berg Hortimotive. “I am not a talker, I am a doer and not afraid to take risks. I constantly ask myself how I can make my product more comprehensive and smarter, how I can add new functionalities. In doing so, I sought contact with the people of Wageningen University & Research: they know the sector and have the relevant knowledge. Together we help move greenhouse horticulture forward.”
“Berg Hortimotive has been making vehicles for harvest transport, crop maintenance and crop protection for over fifty years. Data is becoming increasingly important. We’re always aiming to develop smart software and add extra value to our products. This requires expertise. The scientists at Wageningen University & Research have this expertise and understand where I’m trying to go. We work together with the Greenhouse Horticulture business unit and the AgroFood Robotics group at Wageningen University & Research.”
Berg Hortimotive is also a member of the Club of 100, a group of suppliers and traders in greenhouse horticulture whose members have direct access to the broad expertise of the Greenhouse Horticulture business unit of Wageningen University & Research. The members include greenhouse builders, installation companies, banks and crop protection suppliers. “We are proud of our membership and believe we truly add value to the club,” says Lagerwerf. “In turn, it gives us access to a major network of companies and research and keeps us up-to-date on innovations in greenhouse horticulture. We also have direct access to the research results of Wageningen University & Research.”
Lagerwerf: “We are going to obtain data from the greenhouse; data that is useful to farmers. The Plantalyzer was developed in close cooperation with scientists from the AgroFood Robotics group at Wageningen University & Research and is a fine example of the benefits of our partnership.”
Plantalyzer measures ripeness and quantity of tomatoes
The Plantalyzer gives farmers a better grip on their operational management as the machine measures the ripeness and quantity of large surface areas of tomatoes. Its software uses a special camera to analyse the trusses, and the system provides insight into numbers and colour stages. Linking this information to other available data from the greenhouse provides an accurate forecast of the harvest. The Plantalyzer is fully automatic and creates and analyses images in situ. The results are then shown on the farmers’ screens.
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Hofland: “We want to make cultivation easier and automate part of it,” says Andreas Hofland, general manager at HortiKey. “To do so, we need green knowledge. In my opinion there’s no time to lose.”
“It is extremely important to keep sight on reality when developing a product or service. Is it feasible? If so, we want to bring it into practice as soon as possible. We don’t want competitors to get there first. Our sector is moving at top speed and we would rather arrive ahead of time than late in the game.”
Lagerwerf: “This is only the beginning of many new application options. We can could even identify diseases on the stems. It is a whole new domain! There is so much more we can learn about the crop because plants pass on a wealth of information: is it growing well or is it experiencing stress? Is it producing the right flowers? These are all issues we can take on board. But to achieve this, we need the scientists from Wageningen University & Research. They know what to do to make ideas reality.”
Two different blood groups
“Scientists and machine builders are two different blood groups,” adds Hofland. “Bringing them together takes some getting used to: although we may need each other, we come from very different backgrounds. We established trust by working in a structured way, taking time to explore each other’s worlds and understand one another. This process is now bearing fruit.”
“The great thing is that the Wageningen University & Research scientists know how to communicate and are accessible,” concludes Lagerwerf. “We have had some differences of opinion during the partnership but we always manage to work things out. In the end, we have a well-mixed team of smart individuals who share a common interest for which we need each other, both now and in the future.”