Protected cropping allows to produce more crop per drop

Posted On 06 Oct 2016
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img_6593rolfvankoppenHelping to improve the skills and knowledge of their customers from as far afield as Kazakhstan and fostering partnerships between industry professionals, Dutch greenhouse manufacturer Bom Group hosted this summer a business networking breakfast at their new headquarters in Hoek van Holland, The Netherlands.

 In his welcome address, Bom Group’s new chief executive Mike Vermeij looked back at the achievements the company has made since its foundation by one of the greenhouse industry’s greatest innovators, Piet Bom.

Vermeij stated he is extremely proud of Bom Group’s continued innovation and growth with no fewer than 58 million square metres of greenhouses built over the past fifty years. He mentioned the first ever wind-resistant greenhouse from 1974, the eight metre truss greenhouse, the aluminium gutter which made its debut at the 1982 NTV show, which has now become the standard in greenhouse construction, and the ABS screening system first launched in 1994 and more recently the SunergyKas greenhouse 2.0 from 2012. The latest innovation is the company’s screening system in a W-formation, featuring two cloths with a minimal 6 cm distance between each other to minimize shading. A revolutionary energy screening system is to be revealed in 2017.

Sjaak Bakker, manager of the Greenhouse Horticulture Research and Development Centre at Wageningen University, highlighted the cooperation between Wageningen UR Greenhouse Horticulture in Bleiswijk and Wageningen and suppliers to the commercial horticulture industry as well as the horticultural engineering companies.

Bakker said that food security, climate change, biodiversity, bio-economy and food and health  are the five key challenges facing global greenhouse crop production companies over the next decades.

Intrinsically linked to these global challenges are two of the most important production factors, land and water (according to the OECD, farming is responsible for 70% of water used in the world today) with Bakker emphasizing that sustainable management of both is more crucial than ever in order to carry on delivering a productive greenhouse industry and to ensure water can be shared with others and maintain the environmental benefits of water systems worldwide. With this in mind protected cropping offers many benefits to horticultural production such as a 15% higher water use efficiency.

Due to a rapidly growing world population, urbanization, intensive farming and climate change, there will be a growing shortage of fresh water. Bakker gave the example of Abu Dhabi where supplies are now running dry at an alarming rate with ancient fossil water reserves expected to dry out in 40 years.

Analysing the current state and other trends in worldwide agriculture, Bakker mentioned a robotic revolution, urban farming, Integrated Pest Management and the reduction of CO2 emissions as growing trends. He also sees a clear trend in self-sufficiency in food with countries such as Russia, China and Saudi Arabia wanting to be less reliant on food imports, while modern economies evolve from a fossil-fuel to a biobased economy.

Though gas prices are still relatively stable in the Netherlands, the bad news is that global energy prices are expected to keep rising, directly affecting growers’ energy bills. Bakker said Wageningen UR addresses energy issues in greenhouse horticulture in multiple ways.

In 2006, for example, they teamed up with greenhouse manufacturer Bom Group, a fruitful partnership which resulted in the first ever SunergyKas greenhouse, designed to obtain the greatest possible light transmission. Over the past few years, the concept has been retooled which resulted in SunergyKas 2.0. This next generation semi-closed greenhouse dehumidifies  greenhouse air in a controlled way in order to allow heat to be recovered. In the winter, with roof vents remaining closed, it is possible to keep the energy screen closed for much longer, so that no moisture gap is needed. In the summer, heat can be ‘harvested’ with this greenhouse and stored in aquifers. The result is a substantial energy saving, which, depending on the initial position, may reach 30 to 40%, says Bom Group.

Having gone through different development stages, where different solutions were developed, iterated and tested, the SunergyKas 2.0 greenhouse is now finalized and launched at Lans Tomatoes with an energy use  of 20m3/m2 and a production of 75 kg tomato/m2.

Speaking of light, Bakker referred to the HI-LED business research consortium including members of different disciplines such as the art industry, the health sector and the horticulture industry. This EU project aims at developing advanced LED modules to provide optimal lighting solutions for different applications.  Bakker added that generally speaking greenhouse horticulture is not very high on Brussels’ agenda with access to funding streams being difficult. As such, participating in this research consortium makes applying for research support somewhat easier. “It is not only about smart technologies but also about being smart in getting access to EU funds,” said Bakker.

Wageningen University comprises a truly international university community, promoting its research globally and enhancing knowledge transfer through international engagements.  But not all sustainable greenhouse production environments are equal with Bakker distinguishing three classifications:  low tech companies (soil-bound production passive ventilation), mid tech companies (soilless cultivation, controlled environment) and high tech enterprises (LEDs, diffuse glass, robotics) with the low tech level responsible for 95% of the companies worldwide. Low tech technology is cheap but even the most basic greenhouse can lead to notable production increases. Using Wageningen UR’s model-based greenhouse designs, growers in Indonesia have built a low-cost passive greenhouse in tropical lowlands. Photos taken inside the greenhouse show how per square meter greenhouse crops yield considerably more versus outdoors.

One of the university’s flagship projects is Estidamah,  the world’s second largest research and demonstration greenhouse complex in Riyadh’s Techno Valley in Saudi Arabia. The 8500m2 greenhouses and laboratory will serve to increase water use efficiency in the greenhouse production of fruits and vegetables.

In northern latitudes, plant growth can be suppressed when light in the winter is not sufficiently available. Currently under construction in Bleiswijk is the Winter Light Glasshouse (Winterlichtkas), a partnership of Wageningen UR, Bom Group, Svensson, Bayer Cropscience and Glascom Horticulture, where light levels during the winter will be maximized by glazing it with SmartGlass that is said to transmit 10 percent more light to the crop.

Responding to questions from the audience Bakker warned against confusing the diffusing glass from the old days with today’s diffuse glass, the first one having a much lower overall light transmission than the traditional blank glass. Today’s diffuse glass has a light transmission that is at least equal to that of traditional glass with light being distributed more evenly among the plants and penetrating deeper into all crops. Bakker added that by using the diffuse glass 2.0 ‘hot spots’ in crops can be avoided as the plant temperature at the top of the crop in direct sunlight is lower than under traditional float glass.

Pictured is Bom Group’s new chief executive Mike Vermeij who stated he is extremely proud of Bom Group’s continued innovation and growth (Photo credits: Rolf van Koppen).

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