Autonomous growing has become increasingly indispensable for greenhouse horticulture. Algorithms and AI control the daily processes. But how do you learn to work with algorithms, and what’s your role as a grower? Laurens van der Spek, Chief Operations Officer, and Geert van der Wel, Autonomous Greenhouse Manager of Blue Radix, offer their answers. Here they discuss the changing role of the grower, and how artificial intelligence delivers the most value when combined smartly with personal support.

Why do you offer autonomous growing as a service?
Laurens: “Autonomous growing isn’t just about implementing smart software; it also requires a different way of thinking and working. As a grower you take the step, as it were, from your own rhythm to the algorithm. And this needs good guidance. That’s why we combine Crop Controller with the support of an Autonomous Greenhouse Manager (AGM). They have a thorough knowledge of the greenhouse process, and will guide growers step-by-step towards autonomous control through algorithms and ‘letting go of the wheel’. Years of experience in working with algorithms that control operational processes in the greenhouse, have proved to us that this method works well.”

What does the support include?
“After the start-up phase, the customer really enters the operational phase where smart calculation models and algorithms control the greenhouse climate 24/7 autonomously. In practice you notice that this often takes some getting used to for growers. Sometimes it can deviate from their own ways of working and thinking, because Crop Controller predicts and optimizes the optimal climate proactively every five minutes. The system can process far more data than a human, and can respond to it very rapidly. If a problem is detected, for example due to abnormal plant development or weather forecasts, our system will immediately calculate a different route to get to the right point. Growers would often react later. Practice shows that when growers see how Crop Controller follows the growth line of the chosen strategy continuously, they really let go of manual climate control. And that’s what we do it for,” says Geert.

He continues: “Of course the algorithms are the core of our approach and they do the main work. I monitor the situation in the greenhouse based on the chosen crop strategy. I look over the grower’s shoulder, so to speak. Every two weeks I discuss the results and progress with customers. That’s when we also consider any possible further improvements in the result in relation to the grower’s strategy.”

What is the role of the grower in autonomous growing?
“Growers remain important in this digitalization, but their role definitely changes, which is why we always provide good guidance,” Laurens explains. “The grower determines the crop strategy, and Crop Controller realizes this by giving direction to the installations through the climate computer continuously, 24 hours a day. With autonomous climate control, growers are more active tactically and strategically, and are less operational. For example, they no longer have to sit at their climate computers six times a day adjusting settings. The operational, labor-intensive part of climate management is performed autonomously by Crop Controller. Growers can now focus more on improving the quality of the crop strategy, and on paying more attention to scaling up and innovation.”

What are the current experiences of growers worldwide?
Geert: “We control the climate in greenhouses autonomously worldwide. I have noticed that guiding growers always requires a personal approach. The level of knowledge, experience and cultural backgrounds often vary greatly when it comes to working with autonomous growing. This often leads to instructive situations, for example when a less experienced grower really wants to go fast, and we slow him down a bit to actually consider his strategy first. But we always adapt our onboarding and coaching approach to the wishes and situation of the grower in question. In the end, it’s all about one thing: relieving the grower of his daily operational burdens, and optimizing his strategy so that he can manage more acreage with less time and with a higher yield. You don’t achieve this by just implementing a tool or software; you do it by helping the grower in working with smart algorithms and AI as a personal service.”

How can we help your company grow?
Do you want to know how autonomous growing with Crop Controller can help you with your greenhouse challenges or do you have any questions? Don’t hesitate and please contact us. More information about Crop Controller? You can find it here.