Home Posts Tagged "technology"

technology

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Gridmap is the new technology for moving your harvest trolley in the greenhouse without rails. Now, for the first time, a harvest trolley can move around a greenhouse entirely without rails in the concrete floor or processing area.

Simplifying internal logistics with AGV harvesters is nothing new, but the integrated sensors mean you don’t have to make any adjustments to the greenhouse or shed. Gridmap technology is the future for internal logistics solutions because the vehicle needs no rails to travel on.

Gridmap technology

The harvest trolley travels back and forth between the aisles and the processing area and moves down the rows parallel to the pickers. So you no longer need staff to make sure the right trolley is in the right place at the right time. With Gridmap technology, setting up and installing an AGV harvesting system is much less costly and time-consuming than with induction technology.
www.berghortimotive.nl
Stand number: 11.115

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Sensors that map all the processes in the greenhouse. Drones that perform tasks in the right place in response to clear commands. New technologies are firing the imagination and getting us thinking about how we can improve our processes even further. The opportunities are endless – as long as the data is easy to keep track of.

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Wasting water is so yesterday! The water treatment requirement that entered into force in the Netherlands at the beginning of this year is forcing Dutch growers to reduce the volume of drain water they discharge. But there is scope to reduce it even further by optimising filter output. Making minor adjustments at the front end of the system can have a significant impact on the volume of residual drain water. What’s more, keeping this volume as low as possible can ultimately save you a lot of money on the cost of water treatment.

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With its recent acquisitions of Wander Tuinier Succulenten (June), Hobaho (September) and Olij Rozen (October 2016), Dümmen Orange has once again been making the headlines. The Dutch ornamentals breeding conglomerate is aiming for a global top three position in the ten best-selling crop groups and is not wasting any time getting there. “There is still a whole lot to gain in ornamental plant breeding,” says CEO Biense Visser. “We’re working on that.”

The name Dümmen Orange is not that familiar to many in the sector. And that’s no surprise for a company that was called DNA Green Group until the spring of 2015, and even then was known mainly for the big names under the corporate umbrella, such as Lex +, Bartels, Ecke, Terra Nigra, Dümmen Group, Rijnplant, Fides, Red Fox and Barberet & Blanc. Not to mention the Agribio sister companies in Latin America and Asia.
CEO Biense Visser was brought in more than two years ago to channel growth, take R&D to a higher level and transform the many specialised companies – each with its own culture and history – into an entity that is more than the sum of its parts. He is achieving this mainly through corporate values and programmes focusing on corporate social responsibility, sustainable production and quality assurance.

Sales market changing

What is feeding Dümmen Orange’s growth ambition? Visser: “The realisation that the sales market is changing. In the United States, as many as 60-70% of ornamentals are now sold by big box retailers like Walmart and Home Depot. And it’s heading that way in Europe and Asia too. These companies’ category managers can spend up to three years translating range selections into sales-ready concepts and adequate volumes. If you want to get in with these parties, you need to involve them in what you’re doing at an early stage. And, if possible, offer a complete programme in the crop top ten. That’s what we are aiming for, because we want to be a serious discussion partner. To achieve this we will have to take bigger steps in innovation – for consumers, retailers and, of course, growers – as well as in terms of expanding and upscaling.”

The promise of biotech

From 2002 until its takeover by Monsanto in 2008, Visser was CEO of the Dutch seed breeding company De Ruiter Seeds. He knows a thing or two about the breeding business and also has experience in business acquisition. According to the CEO, breeding practices in ornamentals lag behind those in vegetable production.
“Vegetable seeds have been produced using state-of-the-art techniques for decades,” he says. “You just have to think about DNA-assisted breeding and genetic markers, cell biology techniques such as embryo rescue, the dihaploid technique, and so on. Producing hybrids with inbred lines is standard practice. We hardly ever see these techniques in ornamental plant breeding yet; people tend rather to work on a trial-and-error basis and using visual selection. A lot of crops are largely bred by amateurs. And with all due respect to their dedication and product knowledge, crossing plants is not the same as targeted breeding. The latter is our core business.”
To enable it to work in a smarter and more targeted way, Dümmen Orange is a shareholder in Wageningen-based Genetwister, a company that is pushing the boundaries in biotechnology. This makes it the only business in the ornamentals sector that is investing in new knowledge and applications at this level.

Unnecessarily time-consuming

Inefficient processes make the time that lapses between crossing and market launch much longer than necessary. Visser cites the tulip as an example. It takes five years for the seed from a cross to form a bulb that can propagate itself. Depending on the offset factor, it would take another 15-20 years to produce one hectare of bulbs of this new variety, if it is found to be suitable. “There is definitely scope for improvement there,” he believes.
There are several reasons why ornamental plant breeding is lagging behind. For example, many ornamental crops are not propagated generatively but vegetatively, making the creation and maintenance of specific parental lines less pressing. Nurseries also tend to be much smaller and the diversity of species and varieties is much bigger than in food crops, so the threshold for investing in expensive biotech is higher.
Visser doesn’t brush aside those differences but refers once again to food crops. Breeding in that sector also used to be done using traditional methods, except with just ten to twenty companies working at it in the Netherlands. The fact that these companies have grown enormously in the last thirty years is a logical result of consistent investment in innovation (seed technology, cell biology and DNA technology), upscaling and international expansion, Visser believes. “This should be achievable with ornamentals too,” he says. “You just have to have the courage and the ability to take that step. That requires vision, a whole lot of money and the confidence that it will be recouped.”

Deep pockets

Clearly, the investors behind Dümmen Orange have that confidence and their pockets are deep enough to finance the rapid expansion. Who are these investors and what motivates them?
Visser: “The consortium was set up by Agribio Management, with financial support from banks and the Amsterdam private equity fund H2. Private equity is venture capital that is put together by pension funds and wealthy individuals. They fill a pot with money and invest specifically in one or more companies. The return should primarily come from the appreciation in the investment over the term, which is usually between five and seven years. Ultimately the interests are sold and the investors get their money back plus the return realised.”
Shortly after Visser joined the company, H2 sold its stake to the British private equity fund BC Partners, which had an even bigger pot. “And they saw the potential in our company, otherwise they would not have taken this step,” the CEO continues. “With the new capital injection we can expand our organisation – especially the R&D and ICT departments – and our breeding programmes more quickly through business acquisitions. We must all work together to ensure that this company represents greater value by 2020, when BC Partners are likely to withdraw.”

Colouring in the white spots

They are working hard on that. Managing Director R&D Hans van den Heuvel (also from a vegetable breeding background) has headed the central research department since January 2015 and a lot of young, highly trained specialists have been taken on. The group will shortly be opening an elite centre for mother plants in Rheinberg, Germany, and something similar will be happening for tissue culture in Spain.
Nevertheless, it will take many years to capture a 25% market share in each of the top ten crops. “We are well on the way with rose, chrysanthemum and carnation, but there are also some white spots on the map,” Visser acknowledges. “In tropical plants, we already work with Anthurium, but we don’t yet cover orchid and Bromelia. Flowers from seed are another white spot that we still need to colour in. Ball Seeds and Syngenta dominate that market segment but they are not for sale. Starting from scratch is too time-consuming and if you take over small businesses you have to buy a whole string of them to make any impression. Collaborating with parties in the middle segment makes the most sense. We’ll see what happens. But one thing is certain: this company is going to be producing varieties that growers and consumers can currently only dream of.”

Summary

To be able to serve the major international retail chains properly, ornamental breeders Dümmen Orange want to achieve at least a 25% market share in the ten best-selling crop groups. They are working towards this with business acquisitions, collaboration and a firm commitment to innovation. Investments in seed technology, cell biology and DNA technology are expected to result in a significant acceleration of crossing and selection programmes and in varieties that provide more added value for growers, wholesalers and consumers alike.

Text: Jan van Staalduinen. Images: Studio G.J. Vlekke.

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Yuri van Geest wrote the bestseller Exponential Organisations together with Salim Ismail and Mike Malone, in which they expose the power of fast-growing organisations like Uber, Airbnb and Netflix. He will be the keynote speaker on the theme ‘the power to change’ at the Westland Event on 15 October. ‘The Netherlands will have to embrace new technology within the next five years, if we aim to remain on the driver’s seat in the global food producing industry.’

Yuri van Geest is a specialist in ‘singularity’ and a key figure behind Singularity University Nederland, which will be opening in Eindhoven this December with strong ties to Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Delft and Nijmegen.

Can you explain your personal interest in horticulture?

‘Food is one of the topics I’m currently rather engrossed in. I have also entered into some partnerships in the horticulture sector; so of course, I take an avid interest in it.’ Van Geest has joined forces with the consultancy firm Hillenraad Partners to set up a five-day training course for entrepreneurs in the horticulture sector, in which they aim to show the participants the many opportunities offered by exponential organisation.

How do you retain a competitive edge in a world in which everything is open source?

Can you briefly explain what exponential organisation is?

‘Every business can become an exponential organisation, from a start-up to a family business that’s been around for a century and a half. Basically, it comes down to the way in which the building blocks of a business are organised. A different organisation, a different structure, culture, strategy and critical performance indicators. New technology, such as nanotechnology, 3D printing and robotics - and additionally communities and big data - has to become engrained, as it were, into the DNA of an organisation. As if the organisation is being turned inside out. Business enterprises are doing less and less independently and are outsourcing expertise and technology on an increasingly larger scale. One of the core questions of the book is: how do you retain control in a world where you have less personal property such as talent, personal and resources? How do you retain a competitive edge in a world in which everything is open source? A business enterprise that is capable of applying this organisational change successfully will be able to perform ten times better and faster than one that maintains a linear growth curve. Exponentially. We have divided this process into four steps, which we are implementing at a global scale at companies such as Procter & Gamble and Huawei.’

What will you be speaking about at the Westland Event?

‘You may not be aware of it completely, but the world has entered into a slipstream of technological advancement. Within five to ten years everything will be controlled by software. Biology and technology are becoming more and more closely intertwined. Food is also becoming software. This means that the food producing industry, including the horticulture sector, will become a software industry. Currently, there are numerous developments in the food producing industry that are founded on technology. Take 3D printed food, for example. You can already get several ingredients in a 3D print. In the future we will be able to print out entire hors d’oeuvres, more hygienically and perhaps even tastier than they could be made by a good restaurant. Or consider nano refrigerators with advanced water, nutrient and LED lighting systems, in which people can grow their own food from seeds. Haier, in collaboration with Syngenta (among others) is already taking serious steps in this direction. In just a few years it will be completely normal to walk into a gym, have your DNA or neuroprofile read and be given a personalised shake containing all the nutrients you need at that moment.’

An essential first step is to make leadership facilitating, instead of top-down.

What can horticulturists learn from exponential organisations?

‘Curiosity, creativity. To dare to open all the blinds, to listen to young employees in particular, to embrace new technology. An essential first step is to make leadership facilitating, instead of top-down. People are becoming increasingly older while the world population is continuously growing. Food production worldwide will have to be increased twofold, perhaps even threefold. The way things are going right now, that would be impossible. If we aim to achieve this, we will need technology based on software. The Netherlands will have to embrace new technology within the next five years, if we aim to remain on the driver’s seat in the global food production industry. Horticulturists can also learn not to assume that everything is the truth. To understand that what you are currently thinking and consider to be true is an assumption. The formula behind the coffee shop we’re sitting in right now is functioning perfectly. At present, it has a functional value. However, developments are following upon one another at an accelerated pace. How long will this coffee shop be able to function as its functioning today? If you do not constantly doubt your assumptions and convictions, are no longer curious, your concept or business will have become obsolete before you know it.’

What is your vision of the future of the Dutch horticulture sector?

‘I feel rather optimistic about it, but we will have to take action now. The pace of innovation is much higher in China and the Silicon Valley. They are also growing food, which is coming our way. Like I said: food is software. The horticulture sector - and even broader, the food producing industry - will have to inject itself with new technology to retain its relevance. A business cannot pick up all this new technology on its own, but it can if it joins forces with others as a group. Together with government agencies, for example, or market parties. We in the Netherlands excel in agriculture and food production. At Singularity University Nederland, which is to become a think-tank for Western Europe, AgriFood will be one of our priority subjects. We could achieve tremendous steps in AgriFood. After all, the Netherlands already have many start-ups and knowledge centres in that field.’

The pace of innovation is much higher in China and the Silicon Valley. They are also growing food, which is coming our way.

Why would you advise students to keep a close eye on the horticulture sector?

‘Horticulture is exciting, because of the many opportunities for growth. As I mentioned before, a myriad of new technologies such as biotechnology, nano technology, robotics, drones and 3D printing are all converging in the horticulture sector. I would advise students to invest in all the information currently available online, in addition to what they’re learning at school. Almost everything you want to know and learn is already available on the internet via open source software. You could watch TED talks, or read blogs and news items on websites such as Edge.orgSingularityHUB or MIT Technology review. I learn something new every day through all this media. This is one of the reasons I prefer to travel by train. You can’t read while driving a car, after all. My advice: you have to get going if you want to participate in today’s changing world.’

The Westland Event will be held on Thursday, 15 October 2015, from 3 to 8 pm. Watch the event in livestream on HortiValley.nl (Dutch spoken). Marco van Zijverden, CEO of the Dutch Flower Group, will be introducing Yuri van Geest at 6.45 pm. View the full programme of the Westland Event.

Text: Stijlmeesters.nl/Nicole Carlier. Photo: Flickr/Sebastiaan ter Burg.