This is a blog by Rudolf de Vetten, Chief Product Officer at Blue Radix.
It is exactly five years ago that five international teams had the opportunity to deliver a unique achievement in Bleiswijk during the very first Autonomous Greenhouse Challenge: remotely controlling a greenhouse without entering the greenhouse. Climate, irrigation, energy management. All the data needed to be calculated. Not only remotely, but completely without human intervention. Artificial intelligence (AI) did it.
And what happened after four months of hard work? What everyone thought would take years suddenly turned out to be possible. Five successful crops were delivered, in some cases with a better cultivation result than achieved by the growers who implemented classic climate control. It may only have been on 100 m2, but the first proof had been provided.
Fast forward to 2023. We are now five years further. Time moves fast. What happened during that time, and what did we learn about Autonomous Growing within Blue Radix? We would like to share these five lessons!
- Autonomous Growing: it is already possible
It’s already possible to grow autonomously on a production scale! We have now run several growing seasons with our growers. Some growers have been involved in the development since 2019. While initially we could only predict the climate, they have already run autonomously for several crop cycles. In tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers. This is not a distant future; it’s currently happening in large and small locations of 2 to 60 hectares. In the Netherlands, Canada, USA, Mexico, South Korea and dozens of other locations.
- Continuous and consistent execution of a crop strategy makes the difference
Growing is about making the right decisions on a daily basis. A good strategy is important, but the difference is made by the actions taken at any time of the day and night. Whether this is by humans or by AI. The continuous and consistent execution of the strategy determines the success. Growers who work with Crop Controller notice this every day. The installations are autonomously controlled 24/7 to realize the crop strategy they have in mind.
- Unprecedented possibilities with AI
AI enables new ways of growing. Smooth transitions between periods of the day? No problem. Anticipating weather changes that will take place tomorrow? AI looks ahead and many years back. Continuously monitor and adjust an RTR? It’s never been easier. While many cultivation insights are never realized in practice, it is now possible to do this consistently. The results are amply visible to our customers: a crop that is in balance, with better crop yields and less disease.
- Co-creation instead of competition
AI is often regarded as a competitor to humans. And some AI applications are designed in this way; it is impossible to properly control or influence them. However, Blue Radix focuses on AI that supports the grower and company owner to be even more successful. Always based on the principle that a human is in the lead. We hear from growers who work with Autonomous Growing that it makes their work easier and more interesting: they can now spend more time in the greenhouse or on further improving their cultivation plan.
- Autonomous Growing does what it promises
There is no greenhouse in the world yet where all processes (climate, irrigation, energy, IPM, labor, etc.) are controlled integrally and autonomously. There are still several steps to go. In some areas, such as autonomous climate and energy management, clear results are already visible: a healthier crop, lower energy consumption and better crop yields. And at least as important: growers who now have time for other activities in the greenhouse. Focus on the crop strategy, IPM or innovations in the field of cultivation. Unsurprisingly, more and more of our customers are rolling out Crop Controller at all their locations.
Much has changed in five years and these developments will continue unabated in the next five years. However, it is already clear that Autonomous Growing is a development that has proven itself in a short time. This gives growers new technology that enables them to take their operation to a higher level and manage more hectares.