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RedStar

AI adds to appeal of horticultural jobs among young people

General information

Country Netherlands
Crop Tomatoes
Climate computer Ridder

Hidde Preidel is still studying Horticulture and Arable Farming at the HAS green academy. Since the start of this year, he has been working as an intern at one of the RedStar tomato nursery’s sites that uses Autonomous Greenhouse Management. He works with Blue Radix’s Crop Controller and is discovering all the capabilities and opportunities that the autonomous greenhouse management system has to offer.

With three sites covering 66 hectares of tomatoes in the Netherlands, RedStar is a major player in the tomato sector. To ensure it is all properly managed, RedStar has for years been investing in innovative solutions that make greenhouse operations easier and more efficient, as they have with Autonomous Greenhouse Management. At one location, Blue Radix’s Crop Controller, which uses AI to optimise and implement the unique growing strategy, has been in operation for some time. Hidde Preidel points out that this had given them an appetite for more.

‘Working with Crop Controller adds an extra dimension to my profession as a grower. It is likely to make working in horticulture appeal to a greater number of young people. The main benefit of Autonomous Greenhouse Management is that it helps create peace of mind. By making continual adjustments, you can always count on getting optimal crop results. I can’t do that 24/7.’

Hidde Preidel
Junior Growing Specialist | RedStar

Experience and added value

Preidel started working part-time as a junior crop specialist at RedStar in October 2023. Initially, he did so while studying, but since January he has been there full-time. ‘As part of my Horticulture and Arable Farming course, I am doing an internship at RedStar. I manage 10 hectares of tomato crop, in addition to which I work on the continuing roll-out of Crop Controller within the company. RedStar wishes to expand its use of the system to multiple sites and they’ve asked me to take on the project.’

Understanding the system
Working with AI is nothing new to Preidel. ‘Although I’d had no previous experience of working with Autonomous Greenhouse Management, I did do a subsidiary course in High-tech Agricultural Solutions. During that period I was involved in making lighting fixtures for a vertical farm and I spent some time working with vision technology. We used AI to detect fruits on a plant, which gave me a good foundation in that field.’ This meant I had already delved a little into how algorithms work and what choices are based on. Consequently, I now have a better understanding of Crop Controller and can grasp how the system works.’

Preidel acknowledges that he felt a bit nervous when he first got to know Crop Controller. ‘After all, you relinquish quite a lot of control to a computer program. With a climate computer, you do the same but still keep your hands on the reins. Crop Controller uses our crop-growing strategy to determine the operation of the climate computer and greenhouse systems. At the same time, the program allows you to monitor what is happening, and it provides you with a forecast for the next few days. This quickly showed me that Crop Controller’s decisions aligned well with my own vision, so I soon started to have faith in the system.’

Safeguard
Preidel says that this confidence is essential when it comes to Autonomous Greenhouse Management. ‘Sometimes there are changes in the climate that make you inclined to make adjustments yourself. Is the change due to an incorrect manual setting or is it a decision made by the AI programme? In such a case, you can switch to Blue Radix’s Autonomous Greenhouse Managers. Although you are used to doing everything yourself, it is also nice to have that support. I have found the collaboration to be very pleasant so far, and I can trust that things will work out fine.’ According to Preidel, the guidance and support from Blue Radix is a valuable safeguard. ‘If anything unexpected happens, they spot it in their monitoring system and help me look into it. And they are always available to share their thoughts if needed. That gives you even more confidence.’

Appealing to young people

Preidel has always had an interest in technology, so working with Crop Controller and AI suits him. ‘It adds an extra dimension to my profession as a grower. I find developments of this kind highly interesting, and if AI can improve the crops, it can only be a good thing. I also believe it will make working in horticulture appeal to a greater number of young people. Digitalisation and robotisation could make them feel more connected to this industry. Young people generally embrace developments of this kind faster because they are used to digital tools and AI. However, we have seen a lot of innovation in horticulture for many years, so Autonomous Greenhouse Management is certainly not only for young people. The Crop Controller system is very accessible, so I think everyone will be able to work with it.’

Further development
The goal of his internship is to identify how Crop Controller is currently being used, what people’s experiences of it are, where the opportunities lie and where there may be areas for improvement. ‘I also provide Blue Radix with feedback on my experiences to help them with the ongoing development of the system,’ says Preidel. Currently, two greenhouses at RedStar are being managed autonomously, and the plan is to launch the system at more locations. ‘I’m already being asked lots of questions by colleagues, and I’m helping them get started.’

For RedStar, the main benefit of Autonomous Greenhouse Management is that it helps create peace of mind. ‘On the one hand, you’re relinquishing part of the operation, but on the other hand, the program is constantly managing the greenhouse and optimising the crop. Because it makes constant adjustments, you can always count on it to get optimal results. I couldn’t do that 24/7. It means you have more time left for other things that are also important.’

Preidel is looking forward to the introduction of additional features and extensions to Crop Controller, such as Blue Radix’s integrated irrigation system. ‘We find every development appealing, because they help improve our tomatoes. If we can further improve the climate and irrigation, we will not shy away from doing so. So if the system can contribute to this, we will certainly have a serious look at it.’