The large solar project that provides Sundrop Farms Australia with energy and fresh water is nominated for the Clean Energy Council’s 2018 Innovation Award. The Danish renewable energy specialist, Aalborg CSP, has delivered the energy system to the 200,000 m2 greenhouses of Sundrop Farms in 2017.
The solar energy project is among the top four finalists. The jury sees this pioneering installation in combination with greenhouses in Port Augusta as a leading example of a successful deployment of sustainable energy technologies in Australia.
Clear demonstration project
The Clean Energy Council Awards nominates the pioneering solar energy project in the category 'Innovation Award', because it gives a clear demonstration of what is possible.
This installation with concentrated solar technology (CSP) is the first in Australia and worldwide to support greenhouse horticulture on a commercial scale.
Sundrop Farms produces annually more than 17,000 tons of tomatoes in 200,000 m2 greenhouses located in a remote area. With this yield the company accounts for about 15% of the entire tomato market in Australia.
Multiple energy flows
The unique thing about this project is that the installation with solar energy produces electricity, heat and fresh water. In general, CSP plants at other sites in the world only produce electricity while heat is discharged as waste. An Integrated Energy System has been created at this location with a thermal efficiency of up to 95% that produces multiple energy flows.
The installation consists of more than 23,000 heliostats (computer-controlled mirrors) that bundle the sun's rays in the Australian desert and reflect them towards the top of a 127 meters high solar tower. The concentration of solar energy produces high temperatures that Sundrop Farms then uses to heat the greenhouses in the winter and on cold summer nights, but also to provide fresh water by desalinating seawater drawn from the nearby Spencer Gulf (5 km from the site) and to periodically run a steam turbine to produce electricity.
Source and photo: Aalborg CSP
A trial with hybrid lighting (SON-T + LED) at Dutch tomato nursery Gebroeders Koot has yielded good results. The LED lamp used in the trial, which was developed on British soil with Dutch input, offers several advantages. One stand-out benefit is its clever design which makes it easy to integrate into existing SON-T installations.
Yields up by more than nine percent after seven months (weeks 48-26). That was the auspicious outcome of a greenhouse trial at Prominent growers Gebroeders Koot in Poeldijk, the Netherlands, where a tomato crop grown under 150 μmol/m2/sec SON-T grow light was compared with an identical crop supplemented with 58 μmol deep red with a little blue LED light. Geert Koot, who had had no previous experience in growing under grow light, was very impressed. “I hadn’t expected the higher light level to make such a difference,” he says. “That will appeal to a lot of growers. The same goes for the lamp itself, which has a surprisingly simple design. It’s fully interchangeable with SON-T, so it fits seamlessly into an existing system.”
“A lot of thought has gone into the functional design,” cultivation specialist Maarten Klein adds. He and his assistant, Tim Valstar, oversaw the trial, which was run on behalf of the British LED manufacturer Plessey. Klein, who has had a lot of experience with grow light, developed this lamp in collaboration with the technology company.
“Most LED systems are difficult if not impossible to integrate into existing lighting installations,” Klein continues. “Growers looking to switch to hybrid lighting currently have to install a whole new system alongside their existing one, often with extra C profiles. That pushes up the cost and results in more light interception, which causes problems all year round. Plessey Semiconductors in Plymouth wanted to eliminate these problems.”
To test the practical value of the lamp in the greenhouse setting, Klein approached several Dutch nurseries. In addition to Gebroeders Koot, trial setups were installed at nearby alstroemeria and gerbera growers and a pot plant nursery.
Although Gebroeders Koot were not growing tomatoes under artificial lighting, they did have a SON-T system in place in a section that had previously been let to another grower. These 1000W lamps supplied 151 μmol/m2/s extra grow light and, of course, the usual radiated heat. LED lamps were added in one bay, ramping up the artificial light level to 209 μmol.
Tim Valstar assisted with the trial and, together with Geert Koot, took measurements in the trial and reference sections. All the relevant crop and fruit features of the variety grown, Brioso, were recorded, varying from growth rate and stem thickness to leaf size, leaf colour, fruit weight and Brix value.
The plants arrived in the greenhouse in week 46. “That’s later than the usual for an artificially lit Brioso crop – they would usually go in in mid-October – but the lighting period was long enough to get a reliable impression of any differences,” Koot says. “The plants developed well in both light environments. But the plants under the higher light level were that little bit stronger with slightly thicker stems and more dark green leaves.”
Due to the extra vigour, the plants under the hybrid lighting regime held the first trusses for longer and they were harvested a few days later than those in the reference sections. The higher yield potential quickly expressed itself in a higher average fruit weight. To maintain the desired fineness, one fruit more was kept on the truss (11 instead of 10) from the tenth truss onwards, without the plants forfeiting vigour.
Valstar: “After week 26 we stopped taking measurements and were able to take stock.” The harvest under the hybrid lighting regime was 38.32 kg per m2 compared with 35.04 kg under SON-T. That represents an increase in yield of 9.35%. The average fruit weight was also slightly higher than under SON-T, at 39.2 grams compared with 38.8 grams.
The attractive increase in yield can’t be ascribed solely to the higher light levels in the periods when both systems were in use. The SON-T system was switched off and the CHP unit shut down for maintenance at the beginning of week 19, whereas the LED system was used from 4 am to 7 am for a further three weeks.
“The option to only use the LED lamps either end of the lighting season would be an extra benefit,” Klein says. “Those are often the times when you don’t need the radiated heat produced by the SON-T lamps. LEDs have virtually no impact on the climate. You can always switch them on if you need more grow light. And because they are much more energy-efficient than SON-T lamps, you also have more flexibility when it comes to deciding whether to generate the energy yourself with CHP.”
375 and 600W
Klein is keen to point out that the prototype trialled at Gebroeders Koot was developed exclusively for research purposes. But the lamp has since undergone further development and a commercial 375W version was launched at IPM 2017. All the LEDs are now in one bay and the fitting, which has integrated cooling ribs, can be attached directly to the trellis.
The lamp is called Hyperion 1000 because it has a photon flux of 1000 μmol/s. “Because of the higher uptake of deep red light, it’s the equivalent of a 600W SON-T lamp but it uses 40 percent less electricity,” the cultivation specialist says. “The producer has also recently brought out a more powerful 600W version which is the equivalent of a 1000W SON-T lamp.”
Ten years ago
There is a lot of added value in the new lamp, Koot believes. “It’s efficient, it has a broad spectrum, and its clever design makes it easy to incorporate into an existing system. That will appeal to a lot of growers. I’m also quite impressed. But because of my age and the fact that I have no successor in place, I have decided not to invest in any more grow lights now. If this trial had taken place ten years ago, I would almost certainly have gone for them. But we very much enjoyed taking part in the trial.”
A new type of LED lamp produced in the UK is achieving interesting results. The clever design makes the lamp particularly attractive. It can be attached to the trellis without the use of C profiles and can be integrated into existing 600W SON-T systems with standard connectors. A more powerful version equivalent to a 1000W SON-T lamp was brought out earlier this year.
Text and images: Jan van Staalduinen.
The Plantalyzer is a unique tool for accurately estimating vine tomato crops. It counts the number of vine tomatoes on the plant in the greenhouse and provides reliable information for an accurate estimate of the harvest.
The system was developed in close collaboration with Wageningen University & Research. It uses special cameras to measure the bottom two to three leaf-free trusses. The system maps the trusses per stem, the number of fruits per truss and the colour of each fruit. The Plantalyzer thus provides insight into numbers and colour stages. Linking this information to practical greenhouse data produces an accurate estimate of the harvest.
The tool is able to measure large areas of tomatoes, counting both quantity and maturity. The system does that tirelessly every day, always in exactly the same way, and works fully automatically.
Stand number: 11.115
Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Hyderabad have succeeded in keeping tomatoes fresh for 30 days using special food packaging material. A team of two members led by Dr Mudrika Khandelwal developed the food packaging material, which is made from bacterial cellulose impregnated with silver nano particles.
The bacterial cellulose is prepared using Gluconacetobacter xylinus bacteria in order to produce semi-crystalline cellulose nano fibres from a standard substance that contained glucose. “We can use every type of fruit juice that is rich in sugar to produce bacterial cellulose”, explains Dr Khandelwal.
Smaller is better
The nano-sized pores in the bacterial cellulosic matrix restrict the growth of nanoparticles, thus controlling their growth. Dr Khandelwal: “We discovered that if the silver nanoparticles are smaller the antimicrobial activity will be greater.”
To measure the exact antibacterial activity of the bacterial cellulose the material was first tested on isolated bacteria and fungi that occur on rotting tomatoes. The test showed that the bacterial cellulose killed 99% of the bacteria up to 72 hours after the test was initiated. What’s even more remarkable in this experiment is that the food packaging material also demonstrated fungus-combating activity.
Retarding the aging process
Another test revealed that tomatoes wrapped in the bacterial cellulose packaging material remained fresh for up to 30 days when stored at room temperature. Even after 30 days, the tomatoes demonstrated neither wrinkles nor microbial spoilage. Researcher Shivakalyani Adepu indicated that this is because, in addition to the antimicrobial activity, the composite also facilitates a favourable exchange of gases and moisture. “The material ensures that the fruit ages more slowly.”
The research team aims to test the food packaging material on exotic fruit to see if the material will also keep this fruit for a longer period of time. Dr Khandelwal says that she would also like to test the same principle on medical products. “The composite can be used as an antimicrobial lining in sanitary napkins and disposable clothing and covering in hospitals.”
Source: The Hindu.
More than ten years ago the Austrian horticultural families Kainz and Mayer decided to join forces and set up a new business. Their aim was to professionalise, improve efficiency and prepare their companies for the future. And they did just that: today Kainz & Mayer Marchfeldtomaten is among the leading Austrian tomato producers. The entrepreneurs are still not satisfied, however: they are bursting with ideas and continuously striving for better things.
The company is located in the Marchfeld, the main Austrian lowland, in the north east of the country. The business is twenty kilometres away from both Vienna and the Slovak capital Bratislava. “This was an important reason for choosing this location,” explains 32-year old Peter Kainz, one of the business’s entrepreneurs. “A whopping three million people live within a fifty-kilometre radius of our business. This is a great advantage, as all our products are sold in the region.”
Advantages of synergy
The Kainz and Mayer families originate from Vienna, where they ran family horticultural businesses for four generations. “Together, the two companies boasted 2 hectares in total, which was fairly small scale. We used to grow many types of vegetables there, in greenhouses, plastic tunnels and outdoors. Our professionality and efficiency were far from ideal due to the small scale of our companies,” Kainz explains.
Because both families understood that professionalisation and specialisation were a must for survival in the long term, they decided to join forces. “This was reinforced by the fact that vegetable prices had been showing a downward trend since 1995, when Austria joined the EU and it became easier to import products from other EU countries. By moving forward together, we hoped to upscale and benefit from the advantages of synergy, as we would only need to invest once in machines, warehouses, and so on.”
The families were no strangers to each other: Johann Kainz Senior is the brother of Waltraud Mayer. “We had been working together for many years, so we knew where we stood with each other.”
No rushing into things
Because both locations in Vienna lacked expansion opportunities, the families started looking for a new site to achieve their ambitions. They certainly didn’t rush into it. “We hired Marc Vergelt and Geert-Willem van de Schoot from a Dutch consulting firm to guide us through the process of finding a new location, building a new business and setting up a new organisation,” says Peter Kainz. “In addition, my cousin Waltraud Mayer and I joined a tomato nursery in Moerkapelle in the Netherlands for a year in order to gain experience in the daily running of a modern greenhouse business. We had decided fairly early on that we wanted to start growing tomatoes: they are not an easy vegetable to grow, which is why they are not for everyone. Because there are a lot of people in our business, it was easy to collect the necessary know-how.”
In 2007, the families eventually bought a 20 ha parcel together, where 6 ha of greenhouses were set up initially. They added 3 ha in 2011 and another 4 ha of greenhouses in 2016, bringing the total acreage to 13 ha. “We chose a standard six-metre high Venlo greenhouse with four-metre covers and hired the greenhouse construction company Gakon to build it. Because everything was so new to us anyway, we didn’t want to take any risks in this respect.”
A total of eight partners are involved in the business: Johann and Anna Kainz and their sons Peter and Johann, and Waltraud Mayer with her daughter Waltraud and son Thomas. “The management team consists of Thomas Mayer, Waltraud Kasses-Mayer, my brother Johann Kainz and myself”, says Peter Kainz. “In practice, the business is mainly run by Thomas and yours truly. Thomas is responsible for cultivation, and I handle sales, personnel and all organisational matters. Furthermore, my brother Johann is responsible for the financial administration and my cousin Waltraud carries out a variety of administrative tasks. Our parents also still help out, but less intensively.”
The business grows medium vine tomatoes (Cappricia and Bonaparte varieties) and various types of cocktail and cherry tomatoes. Harvesting takes place from March until early December. “When it comes to growing methods and technical equipment, our business can be compared with modern Dutch companies,” Peter Kainz says. “We grow on stone wool, for instance, work with gutters, and recycle all our water. We often work with organic pest controls and try to minimise the use of pesticides as much as possible.”
The tomatoes are distributed to supermarkets in a radius of up to 300 kilometres around the business, via the Austrian growers’ association Gemüse Erzeuger Organisation Ost Österreich. “We deliver to REWE, Spar and Hofer, for instance. In recent years demand has been on the rise because Austrians, and also Slovaks, are increasingly opting for products from their own region. They are also prepared to pay more for them. This is why we have had some very good years recently, from an economic perspective. We have also invested a lot in business process optimisation, for instance with regard to energy management.”
The growers have the greenhouse cleaned by the spraying company Marcel Veenman every year so that they can make optimum use of the available light and save energy. Kainz again: “Also, we replace the screen fabric regularly and we use anti-condensation foil when we plant in December. There are lots of sustainable energy facilities such as wind turbines nearby. We help compensate for fluctuations in the electricity supply in the balancing markets.”
Another important success factor is that the business is mainly focused on varieties with great flavour. “We are continuously testing new varieties for our business, which we review on taste as well as shelf life and production. Through social media we also try to maintain a feel for what consumers want, and to respond adequately.”
Flexibility and quality
Although the entrepreneurs are satisfied with how the business is running, they are continuously on the lookout for new possibilities. “Stagnation is decline, after all,” Kainz emphasises. “The biggest challenge for the future is to be as flexible as possible in terms of delivery, varieties, packaging, and so on. Because our customers are increasingly demanding flexibility, we started packing our tomatoes ourselves last year; previously, this was done by the growers’ organisation. But because we now own a sorting and packing line ourselves, we can respond better and more quickly to our customers’ wishes.” The Dutch firm Taks Tuinbouwtechniek supplied the sorting and packing line for vine and cocktail tomatoes. The machines for weighing and packing the small packs come from Topcontrol and Ulma Packaging.
To offer more flexibility, both families are also looking at investing in assimilation lighting, as this would enable them to deliver year-round. “We have noticed significant demand for local tomatoes during the winter months as well.”
In addition the partners want to focus on further quality improvement in the coming years. Among other things, this requires a significant investment in training employees. “We have 70 permanent employees, and up to 140 in the summer. We regularly organise meetings on specific subjects for our employees: pests and diseases, techniques, and so on. By lifting their knowledge to a higher level, we want to further improve our quality. Quality is our guiding principle in everything we do. And in this respect, we always aim to set the bar a little higher.”
This doesn’t conclude the list of future plans, however. Indeed, last year the business bought another fifteen acres of land earmarked for a further extension – and not necessarily in tomatoes. “We are also exploring market possibilities for other crops, including lettuce and berries, and even fish farming is an option. One advantage of working like this is risk spreading. In short, there is still quite a lot in the pipeline.”
In 2004 two families, who each ran a small-scale business in Vienna, decided to set up a new, more professional horticultural business together. They founded Kainz & Mayer Marchfeldtomaten, a 13 ha nursery that grows vine, cocktail and cherry tomatoes. They supply local supermarkets. The entrepreneurs are entirely focused on quality and are also continuing to develop their business. Further growth is on the cards for the coming years and, in addition, the Austrians are exploring cultivating a second product.
Text: Ank van Lier. Images: Kainz & Mayer.
Founded in 1971, Mexican vegetable grower Agrícola Zarattini is a family business that produces peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, asparagus and strawberries. Having started out with just 6 ha, nowadays the facility comprises 91 ha of greenhouse crops, with the overwhelming majority of its products being sold for export. With more than 10 years of experience in producing hydroponic vegetables, today this grower sets itself apart with its consistently high-quality produce, including ‘One Sweet’ peppers and the specialty tomatoes Campari and Kumato.
Emmanuel (Manolo) Melchor, head grower at the company, explains the evolution of the company. “We started our greenhouse activities around 15 years ago, and the Zarattini family has been continuously driving expansion ever since. The ambition is to become the best company of our kind in Mexico and the first to be recognised worldwide for quality. We first started out with just 6 ha. Today, we have 91 ha of high-tech greenhouses, employing around 800 people and we are still growing.”
At the Medio Sitio facility, located close to Silao de la Victoria in the state of Guanajuato, on the central plains of Mexico, the company produces bell peppers in three colours – red, orange and yellow – all year round. Silao is a centre of agricultural and industrial activity, with a large number of production facilities growing a wide variety of crops. The area has a semi-arid climate, with rains in the summer and an average annual temperature of 28°C (with maximum temperatures reaching as high as 34°C in mid-summer and down to 0°C in the winter months).
Mexico’s horticulture sector has been growing steadily over the past couple of decades. The production of greenhouse crops continues to rise at an average rate of over a thousand hectares per year, thanks among other things to the favourable climate and the country’s proximity to the US and Canadian markets. “Like almost all other vegetable producers in Mexico, we export close to 95% of our products to the USA and Canada, with the remaining 5% being sold on the local market,” comments Melchor. The company’s customers include the top 25 food retailers in those countries, such as Walmart and Costco.
Meeting consumer needs
“We are committed to high standards of quality, food safety and sustainability,” he continues. This includes the company providing excellent after-sales services, shouldering its corporate social responsibility, treating its employees, its customers and the environment with respect, and making people feel that they are part of the family.
“Above all, we are focused on meeting the needs of the consumers, the men and women who are looking for the best-quality peppers,” Melchor says. “Our whole organisation is set up to achieve that: we select the pepper seeds ourselves, have our own nursery where we produce seedlings, and then we cultivate, package and market our fresh produce. To reach our goal, we need to have outstanding and productive pepper plants, and also excellent employees.”
The company’s germination facilities include mechanical seeders, trays and other equipment and materials, and the subsequent development of the seedlings is done in a high-tech environment in which the light level, temperature, humidity and nutrients are all carefully monitored and controlled.
“Our greenhouses are also very high-tech, built by our own team under the guidance and supervision of the greenhouse companies. We have close relationships with the likes of Zantingh, Richel, Priva and Hoogendoorn for the automated systems and equipment,” he adds.
The company is extremely strongly committed to food safety and has food safety policies in place throughout all areas of the company: seedling production, greenhouse activities and the packaging department. To support its sales to retail customers, Agrícola Zarattini works with a system based on international food safety standards, and its greenhouses are certified under the SQF and PrimusGFS international audit schemes in addition to being recognised by the Mexican National Service for Agro-Alimentary Public Health, Safety and Quality (SENASICA) programme.
“This focus on food safety is one of the reasons that we use a microorganism-based approach in our soil management. In the past, we had problems with root diseases. The technical team first brought the Bactiva method to our attention around ten years ago and we have been using this solution for our pepper production ever since,” says Melchor. “We use it from the moment of planting, and then we apply it every month at a dose of one kilogram per hectare. We source it through our contact Raul Ulises Andrade Ruiz and his company, which is based in Celaya here in the state of Guanajuato. The supplier’s representatives help us to make evaluations of the product and they visit us once a month to analyse the product and evaluate the presence of microorganisms.”
The solution is developed and supplied by an alliance of companies in Europe and North America focused on the treatment of roots with microorganisms that boost plant growth. Soil harbours many bacteria and fungi that benefit plants. They form a long-term relationship with the roots and the surrounding rhizosphere. The application of soilborne microorganisms makes it possible to optimise the supply of water and nutrients for the greenhouse plants.
“This natural way of strengthening plant health and resistance is a good fit with our commitment to sustainability. We have tried many other biological products in the past, but we believe we have found the best solution in Bactiva thanks to its high concentration of beneficial organisms. This product has really helped us to improve the health of our crops, especially peppers. We’ve also been able to reduce our use of agrochemicals and achieve better yields at the end of our production seasons,” he explains.
At Agrícola Zarattini they still see plenty of potential to build on the success of this natural approach. “In the future we want to make greater use of biological control, for both diseases and pests,” states Melchor. This will help the vegetable production company to continue on its path towards further international expansion based on quality and food safety, not only in North America, but also increasingly worldwide.
Based in Mexico, vegetable production company Agrícola Zarattini grows peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, asparagus and strawberries, predominantly for export markets. The company sets itself apart through high standards of quality, and has bold ambitions: to achieve international recognition as the best company of its kind in Mexico. Sustainability and food safety are key pillars of the company’s success. The use of soilborne microorganisms to tackle root disease in its pepper crops is a good example of its biological approach to optimising crop health, quality and yield.
Text: Lynn Radford. Images: Agrícola Zarattini.
Golden Fresh Farms, based in Wapakoneta, Ohio, USA, is a high-tech tomato producer selling to leading grocery retailers in North America. In Greenhouses spoke to Luis Chibante, president and CEO of the company, to learn more about the company’s activities and high-quality, innovative approach.
The history of Golden Fresh Farms, managed by Luis Chibante (president) and Paul Mastronardi (vice president), began around four years ago. It was set up as a sister company of Golden Acre Farms near Kingsville, Ontario, Canada. “When looking to expand our operations,” explains Chibante, “I decided to build a new company here in Wapakoneta, Ohio, for several reasons. Firstly, this location in the Midwest of the USA gives us access to around 200 million people within easy driving distance, which is beneficial in terms of logistics and shelf life. Secondly, the winters are cold here, which we actually like because it helps to keep pests down to a minimum without spraying, and we aim for pesticide-free as much as we can. And thirdly, there is a high energy availability at low cost in Ohio. In fact, we don’t generate our own energy because it makes better financial sense to buy it in than produce it ourselves. That’s a big difference from Canada.”
Sustainability is an important theme for the company, which has a strong focus on quality and freshness. “We strive to grow the best products using sustainable methods. We’re positioned at the higher end of the market, but once our retail customers know that we’re an efficient greenhouse company they’re happy to enter into long-term partnerships with us,” comments Luis.
Nowadays, both retailers and consumers are increasingly realizing that cheaper is not always the best approach. It’s more a matter of how you can improve your product quality, taste, longevity and appearance. That enables you to sell 100% of your product rather than just 80% of your product with the other 20% going to waste, and waste is such a huge issue in retail. “So retailers might have to pay us a bit more, but they’re ultimately profiting a lot more. It took us a little while to create that new mindset among our customers, but they’ve now seen that it achieves real results. And the consumer is actually the winner.”
The company is already selling to most of the big retailers in the USA: Kroger, Meijer, Metro, Sobeys. “In fact, now that we’re a US company a lot of retailers are actually coming to us saying they want to stock our product because it’s locally grown and the sustainability and the product quality are better than they’re used to.”
Tradition of innovation
Now that the first phase of the construction project has been completed, Golden Fresh Farms is a 7 hectare hydroponic greenhouse facility with 75 employees. It has a production capacity of approximately 200,000 tomato plants and an annual yield of 4.5 million kilos of three types of tomatoes: beef, cluster and cocktail. At the end of expansion phases 2 and 3, which will take another 10 to 15 years, the facility will comprise around 32 hectares.
Chibante continues: “To ensure freshness and quality, it’s a very high-tech facility with a fully integrated operation from seeding and harvesting to fully automated packaging and shipping. We’ve definitely benefited from the tradition of innovation at Golden Acre Farms in Canada. That was one of the first greenhouses in North America to work with a trough system. We’re talking 18 years ago.”
In another example, before diffuse glass was invented, Golden Acre Farms was actually one of the first greenhouses in Canada to install two curtain systems, one for energy and one for diffuse light. “So we were doing diffusion before it even became popular. And then five or six years ago, we were one of the first high-tech facilities in North America in terms of lighting and robotised packaging.”
The company Thermo Energy Systems has played a key role in those innovative developments, and was instrumental in the design and construction process of the Ohio facility too. “I’ve known Henry Froese, president of the company, for more than 20 years. Even back in those early days we were both very interested in improving efficiency, so we bounced ideas off of one another – him as an engineer and me as a grower – to make his company better and to make my company better, and our partnership has evolved ever since,” recalls Chibante.
“He’s done a lot for us in Canada over the years so it was only logical for us to contact him and his company when we were planning this new facility. In the end, they built the whole greenhouse as their first-ever turnkey project. We architected the facility together – it took around a year and a half to do all the drawings – and then we found the right location. The construction work was completed in just eight months, believe it or not. We’ve been able to use all the technical knowledge gained in Canada when designing our Ohio facility.”
Benefit heat from HPS
So it obviously has diffuse glass, energy curtains and Golden Fresh Farms was set up for semi-cooling if the company decides to grow in summertime in the future. “So basically we have everything we need at our fingertips. We work with HPS lighting rather than LEDs, for two main reasons. Firstly, the energy costs are so low in Ohio that LED cost-savings aren’t a consideration, and secondly the winters here are so cold – with night-time temperatures of down to minus 5°C and daytime temperatures of below zero – that we actually benefit from the heat produced by the HPS lighting.”
Another innovative solution that Thermo Energy Systems installed at Golden Fresh Farms is a pioneering fan system by Dutch manufacturer Van der Ende Group. The unique setup of the manufacturer’s Enfan horizontal fans in conjunction with the Verti-Fan vertical fan system combines vertical and horizontal airflows to compensate for any temperature and humidity variations.
This maintains an optimal climate throughout the entire greenhouse, activating crop growth while also helping to save energy. “The horizontal fans are common over here but it’s unique to combine them with the vertical system. Everything works on sensors and is fully computer controlled, there’s no manual intervention. The need for constant air circulation depends on so many factors – the climate and light level outside, whether the curtains are closed, whether the HPS lighting is on – and for each factor the computer knows precisely when to implement the fans. This optimally balances the climate from one end of the greenhouse to the other – which is 430 metres in length and has 49 bays of 8.5 metres each – and there’s a constant air flow without any wind effect.”
The first crops were planted in the Golden Fresh Farms greenhouse in February 2017, so the coming season (September 2017-August 2018) will be the first real test, but Golden Fresh Farms’ president is pleased with the initial results. “The production numbers look really good and we’re already seeing results in the crops in terms of quality. In fact, we like the innovative air circulation system so much that we’re planning to install it in our Canadian facility too in the longer term.”
In the meantime, he has got his work cut out supervising the further expansion of the company in its mission to ensure that its US customers continue to receive the freshest, highest-quality, most environmentally sustainable and locally grown produce throughout the year.
Golden Fresh Farms, based in Wapakoneta, Ohio, USA, has recently completed phase one of what will become an 32 hectare high-tech greenhouse facility for tomatoes. This innovative hydroponic facility includes a pioneering climate control system combining horizontal and vertical fans to achieve optimal airflow the entire length of the greenhouse.
Text: Lynn Radford. Images: Golden Fresh Farms.
Penicillium chrysogenum is a beneficial fungus whose Latin name means “painter’s brush”, after the shape of the branched hyphae bearing rows of black/grey spores. The white hyphae grow first, after which the black/grey spores turn the whole organism grey. Penicillin, an antibiotic made by this fungus, is named after it.
The Penicillium genus consists of many species. They all have a similar structure but with different specific shapes and properties. In horticulture, the fungus can be harmful but it can also simply be present without causing any harm. When conditions in the greenhouse are right – high humidity and warm temperatures – the fungus thrives and spores float in the greenhouse air. The tendency to use less energy and fewer crop protection products in all crops is causing the concentration of fungal spores to rise, which in turn increases the risk of infection.
The fungus can be controlled by avoiding constantly high humidity and condensation on the fruit or crop, avoiding damaged and cracked fruits, and reducing the infection pressure in the greenhouse by clearing up residues of leaves, crop and soil.
Text and images: Groen Agro Control.
There’s a lot of work going on into LED lighting at the moment. We already know from past research that light colour impacts on plant processes. The next step is to develop dynamic light recipes with the light colour adjusted to meet the needs of the plant at different times of the day or the growth phase. Last year saw researchers conduct the first trials with a dynamic light recipe in a semi-practical setting. Tomato plants were given blue or green light for part of the day and red light for the rest of the time.
This research was conducted in the context of a wide-ranging, innovative EU research project, the HI-LED project, which focused on three areas of application for LEDs: the use of light and light colour in the workplace, in museums and in greenhouse horticulture. The project saw the development of new lighting systems which can be controlled to provide the required light colour at any time. The four-year research project was launched on 1 December 2012 and has since ended.
Anja Dieleman was the project manager for greenhouse horticulture. Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands worked on the project alongside Hortilux Schréder and the Spanish research institute IRTA. “IRTA looked at the effects of light colour on fruit quality, we studied the effect on the whole crop, and Hortilux supplied the specially produced lamps. When you use LEDs in museums or in the workplace, you only need one or two lamps. Cost and effectiveness also play an important role in greenhouse horticulture.”
The process started with the question: what does light colour do to plants? Dieleman explains: “Most of the research took place in climate chambers. The effect of red light there is also the effect of the absence of blue light, for example. In the greenhouse, the background is just sunlight.”
The exploratory trials with young sweet pepper and tomato plants, which have been reported on previously, looked at the effect of red, blue, amber, green and a combination of red and blue on the crop compared with white light as a reference. All six were against a background of natural daylight.
“The plants with red and amber light produced the same picture as the plants under the white reference light. The plants under blue light had shorter, smaller leaves, were darker green in colour and had higher chlorophyll levels. The measurements showed that photosynthesis increased in these plants once they were no longer under blue light. The upshot of this could be that plants that have been lit with blue light for a certain length of time process light more efficiently for the rest of the day. The plants that were under green light were more elongated and had a more open leaf structure. They looked similar to the plants that were under far-red light. You could make use of this in some way to improve light interception, at the start of the crop, for example,” Dieleman sums up.
Blue and green steering light
The basic trial with young plants and other trials with LEDs only give us a glimpse of the future. There are dozens of potential permutations for trials with different combinations of light colour, light intensity and times, and it was up to the scientists to make the right choices for the rest of the project.
In a preliminary trial, therefore, they first ran small-scale tests looking at the effects of blue light, which impacts on photosynthesis, and green light, which impacts on the shape and light interception of the crop. “In one series of plants we looked at the effects of green light at different times of the day. In terms of elongation it made no difference when we gave them a period of green light. Another series of plants was given different intensities of blue light (20, 100 and 200 μmol) at the same time of day. Even the lowest intensity seemed to have an effect. This means you can use blue light as a steering light to increase photosynthesis.”
Choice of lamp
There was no more time for preliminary research, as the start of the semi-practical greenhouse trial coincided with the normal time for artificially lit tomato plants and the researchers had to get their requirements to the lighting supplier beforehand. The supplier made the light fittings specially for the trial. It was decided to use LED fittings that gave green, blue or red light and were dimmable so that they could be fine-tuned for the trial. “We had the 0 series of these fittings; the first commercial series is available on the market in the meantime,” the project manager reflects.
The greenhouse trial with Komeett tomatoes ran from November 2015 to May 2016. “We had four 70 m2 greenhouse compartments at our disposal.” In the first compartment, the plants received 85 μmol/m2/s blue light for the first three hours in the morning, followed by 220 μmol/m2/s red light. The same was done in the second compartment but starting with green light instead of blue. The plants in the two reference compartments only received red light. The total light in the four compartments was the same. This meant that the reference plants were lit for a slightly shorter period of time in total. During the trial, large numbers of measurements were taken to monitor plant development, flowering, fruit development and quality and the effect on photosynthesis. “The expectation was that green light would mainly affect plant shape and blue light would impact on photosynthesis,” says crop researcher Kees Weerheim.
Different plant responses
Weerheim summarises the results. The plants that received blue light for the first three hours of the day increased production by 8% – a combination of the greater number of fruits produced and the heavier weight of the fruits. In addition, the plants were 10% shorter, at about 600 cm compared with 660 cm. The leaves contained slightly more chlorophyll but photosynthesis was not measurably higher.
The results of the plants that received green light for the first three hours were a little more difficult to explain. These were found to have lower photosynthesis, even though the leaves also contained slightly more chlorophyll which should allow them to absorb more light. The plants under green light were no different in length from the reference plants, although the crop was more open, allowing the light to penetrate through to the second leaf layer more easily. This could be beneficial for light interception, similarly to diffuse light through the greenhouse roof.
Sum total of little things
“The plants with blue light showed increased production, whereas the plants under green light did not. But the differences are small. We can’t pinpoint one specific factor as being responsible for the improvement in production. It’s the sum total of lots of little things: differences in photosynthesis, leaf position, chlorophyll content. What we do know is that pursuing this offers potential for the future. We don’t know or understand everything yet, but it is definitely the way to go,” project manager Dieleman confirms.
LED lighting in general is becoming more and more popular. Its potential lies in the use of light colours. “We need to generate knowledge and make growers and propagators aware of the opportunities.” Dieleman sees this as a big jigsaw puzzle to which more and more pieces can be added.
The EU’s four-year HI-LED project has ended. In the latest greenhouse trial with Komeett tomatoes, the plants received 85 μmol/m(sup>2/s blue or green light, supplemented with 220 μmol/m2/s red light. This treatment was compared with reference compartments in which the plants were only given red light. The plants under blue light increased production by 8% and were 10% shorter. Although the plants under green light had a more open structure which made for better light penetration, their production was more or less comparable to the plants in the reference section.
Text and images: Marleen Arkesteijn.
HortiKey is contracting Wageningen University and Research Centre and Berg Hortimotive for the realisation of the Plantalyzer. The Plantalyzer automatically measures the tomatoes in the greenhouse while they have not yet been harvested, and so are still hanging on the plant. The Plantalyzer as a counting system for tomatoes gives the grower objectively determined information about the quantity and ripeness of fruit. HortiKey uses this data to expand the system to an accurate crop estimate.
In 2016, HortiKey introduced the CHIMP concept, the Crop Health & Information Monitoring Platform. ‘The CHIMP clearly demonstrated that HortiKey is taking us towards data collection in the greenhouse’, says Andreas Hofland, general manager of HortiKey. ‘The Plantalyzer is the first product to be realised based on this concept. The Plantalyzer is used to record the tomato stocks in the greenhouse automatically. It not only counts the numbers, but the colour stages are also measured.’ In combination with the figures for the realised harvest, HortiKey is continuing developments in order eventually to support the grower in an accurate crop estimate.
Image processing by Wageningen UR
Wageningen University and Research Centre has been selected because they have ample knowledge and experience with measuring tall crops in the greenhouse. Among other things, Wageningen UR has in the past gained experience in the EU-financed projects SpySee, Crops and Gezonde Kas, using camera systems for image capture of high-upright growing crops in the greenhouse and the associated image processing. ‘By choosing Wageningen UR, we are not starting from scratch, but we can use public knowledge and experiences that has already been developed’, according to Hofland. Moreover, in this way we can incorporate the new technologies in the Plantalyzer, which is essential for being able to realise the goal of giving crop estimates. This is about the commitment of high-grade technology and knowledge.
New AGV technology
Berg Hortimotive has been selected because of its new Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) technology. ‘Of course, the fact that HortiKey is a start-up within the Berg group also plays a part, but still HortiKey makes its own choice in the correct technology’, explains Hofland. ‘Berg Hortimotive was chosen because they have developed a new AGV platform, whereby the trolley's location is always known’. ‘That is crucial if one needs to make automatic recordings. Moreover, the AGV can move around autonomously from path to path, so that the grower has nothing to worry about.'
Plantalyzer and AGV as onse system
When asked how the different systems will be combined into one working product, Hofland says: ‘Berg Hortimotive can manufacture the Plantalyzer as a complete system, so with the cameras and software integrated. They can also take it into service worldwide via its extensive dealer network.’
First series are for sale
The first series of four are now being sold to growers. ‘The first group of users will provide us with experience on how often, where and when measurements need to be made for obtaining reliable data. Based on this practical data, and combined with the harvest figures, we will develop an algorithm for the crop estimates’, according to Hofland. The planning assumes that the first four Plantalyzers will start taking measurements in customer greenhouses in 2018.
Source & photo: Berg Hortimotive.