Piet Wijnen is the cultivation manager of various strawberry greenhouse sites of Dutch nursery Thwan of Gennip BV. At two sites, he uses a Ridder (formerly HortiMaX) climate computer and Growficient substrate sensors to monitor and optimize irrigation. Close collaboration between these two technology developers and the strawberry grower has ensured that this process is becoming increasingly efficient, advanced and data driven.
Growficient and Ridder have helped create a unique interface that ensures that the data from the Growficient irrigation and substrate sensors can be used to directly influence the irrigation strategy. The Growficient sensors are linked to the Ridder climate computer using the open Ridder HortOS platform. As a result, the data from the sensors is not only shown by the climate computer, but can also be used to further automate irrigation. This can be done based on upper and lower limit values set for, for example, the decreasing moisture content of the substrate or by triggers from the Growficient platform. In addition, the sensor information from Growficient can be visualized and viewed in dashboard applications within the Ridder HortOS platform.
‘Determining the right irrigation volume is quite challenging’
Grower Piet Wijnen is pleased with the developments achieved by Growficient and Ridder. Wijnen: “Normally, we determine our irrigation strategy by analysing the data retrospectively. In the morning I’ll check to see how it went the day before, and whether I stopped irrigation on time. I need to ensure that the root zone of the plants isn’t too wet going into the night. The drainage channels provide the required information for this but adjusting the irrigation settings is always done manually. Determining the right irrigation volume is often quite challenging, especially for inexperienced growers.”
To optimize their strategy, Piet and his colleagues often check the data on the Ridder climate computer. In addition, Piet also uses the Growficient substrate sensors to quantify his adjustments based on educated guesswork. These sensors help him, for example, to determine the correct times to start and stop irrigation. “You can start irrigation in the morning if the substrate has dried out sufficiently.’’ He also adjusts the irrigation cycles when it is sunny, based on the sensor measurements: ‘’When it’s very hot, I can see on the Growficient dashboard that the temperature inside the growing substrate is rising. I will then increase the frequency of the irrigation cycles, but reduce the water volume per cycle, to keep the temperature low.’’
The partnership between Ridder and Growficient will make irrigation scheduling easier for Piet and his fellow growers. The measured dry-back of the substrate and other relevant sensor data will soon be instantly visible on the climate computer. “I can use these measured values for a setting that triggers irrigation automatically at a specific lower limit. To do this, the average measurement of the sensors must be fed into the computer. This is also ideal for cultivation using supplemental lighting, because at night I cannot make manual adjustments. It is great that the Ridder computer does this automatically based on the Growficient measurements." In addition to the new insights and a more data-driven strategy that Piet is able to extract from the sensor data, it also makes his job easier. ‘’Making growing easier is important. This technology helps us do that and it saves us time.”
Joining forces, a key factor
Growficient is one of those partners that Ridder is working with within the open HortOS platform to achieve data-driven cultivation. “Collaboration between multiple parties is a key factor to helping growers advance and making their lives easier,” says Sander Baraké, Head of Digital & Innovation at Ridder. “The Ridder HortOS platform is geared towards bringing various technologies and services together that will ultimately help growers to manage their crops autonomously.”
Tim Engelman, Growficient: “The interface with Ridder HortOS means that it is now possible to display our sensor measurements on the climate computer in addition to the Growficient dashboard. However, the second step is to automate irrigation using limit value settings thanks to the interface with the climate computer. Ultimately, the goal is for the plant feedback to become the input for managing the greenhouse (autonomous growing and irrigation).”
This ‘listening’ to the plants using sensors is what Growficient and Ridder are focusing on in their collaboration. And this is not only important for irrigation, but also for other aspects of the greenhouse climate. As Piet Wijnen also says: ‘’I hope that we will eventually be able to get as many parties together as possible that will work collaboratively in order to ultimately be able to offer an all-in-one solution that will make growers’ lives easier.”
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