A blog by Rudolf de Vetten, CPO of Blue Radix
“Never waste a good crisis,” Winston Churchill once said. And he would know because he experienced quite a few. Even now, many growers are experiencing a strong sense of crisis: we had only just breathed a sigh of relief after the Covid pandemic before the next crisis appeared. Many companies have been hit hard by the soaring energy prices caused by the war in Ukraine and the energy transition. What can we do about this? How do we respond?
It is interesting that many growers are following completely different strategies than a year ago, resulting in a considerable energy reduction. What was previously unthinkable is happening anyway. Less lighting, colder cultivation, everything is being pulled out of the closet. At the same time, this means a search for a new optimum.
Previously, it was simple according to many growers: cultivation was always leading. This meant that the development of the crop was monitored and the person responsible for energy management needed to ensure that the right amount was always available, regardless of the energy prices at that time.
This is no longer tenable. Not only in terms of costs – it is often not a sustainable choice. We need to grow with minimum waste: every joule of heat, every kilowatt hour of electricity and every kilo of CO2 must contribute to growth. This requires continuous consideration of crop data, weather data and costs.
That starts with a solid crop and energy strategy, but that alone is not enough. Ultimately, the grower’s decisions determine what the energy consumption will be every hour of the day.
In the morning, a minimum pipe temperature is only useful if it is moist at the bottom of the crop. And then the question is: should every department be treated the same way? And what is a good pipe temperature given the state of the crop and today’s weather forecast? Growers continuously consider these factors based on their own insight. However, it is impossible to make all these decisions in an optimal way and very frequently. Which is why growers often take a safety margin: how do you ensure that you at least stay out of trouble? I believe that this can be done better.
Blue Radix can control the climate in the greenhouse very precisely based on precise calculations and data analysis. Continuously, 24×7. Because our algorithms look ahead, we already take into account the upcoming weather conditions. For example, we close the windows earlier when the temperature suddenly drops sharply. But we only do that if the wind is coming from a certain direction and the moisture is under control. In this way, Crop Controller creates a stable and anticipatory climate. By combining all available data sources, growers can achieve optimal control of the climate much more precisely per department, resulting in significantly less energy waste.
Subsequently, the link with energy models makes it possible to closely align the crop strategy with the energy strategy. What’s more profitable? Higher production or lower energy consumption? By weighing costs and revenues against each other, an ideal balance can be determined at any time of the day. This allows every euro spent on energy to be put to good use.
Continuously making these considerations and relating all the data to each other is virtually impossible for a grower. Fortunately, this crisis coincides with strong technological developments in greenhouse horticulture. Algorithms like those developed by Blue Radix can continuously make this trade-off and perform the right action. Growers who use this crisis to manage their business in a new way will see that it also offers new opportunities.