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Vine Fresh Acres

Experience | Autonomous Growing with Crop Controller

General information

Country Canada
Crop Cucumber
Climate computer Ridder

Vine Fresh acres in Leamington, Ontario, grows high wire cucumbers and bell peppers that are sold under the Nature Fresh Farms brand. Head grower and operations manager Pete Neufeld of Vine Fresh Acres has been working with Crop Controller since 2021.

 

Jake and Pete autonomous growers

“Crop Controller is doing exactly what we thought it was going to do. We’re steering fully autonomous more than 95% of the time. The crop looks good, no issues. Zones that are being steered show less mildew. We like what we see and we want more of it. Autonomous growing with Crop Controller makes my job so much easier, and helps me oversee it all.”

Jake Knelsen & Pete Neufeld
Grower & Head Grower

Experience and added value

Vine Fresh Acres is a family-owned business that farms a total of 86 acres of greenhouse vegetables on a year-round basis. The company has two facilities in Canada, covering 34 acres of cucumbers and 52 acres of bell peppers. Vine Fresh Acres focuses on sustainable and healthy food production in high-tech greenhouses. The company has experienced significant growth and professionalization in recent years.

At the same time, it became increasingly difficult to find sufficiently qualified employees, says head grower Pete Neufeld. “We needed to figure out how to utilize our current growers to their fullest potential and how to maximize their time. With Blue Radix and their specialism in Autonomous Growing, we hoped that somebody like our grower Jake would be able to manage a lot more acreage than just what he was doing at that time. And that was exactly what happened after we started to use Crop Controller.”

Start of the 6-month trial
Neufeld says he believes in Autonomous Growing. “In the past we have tried to find new growers around here, but that has proven to be extremely difficult. We just don’t have that many young people who are interested in horticulture anymore. It’s a very demanding job, seven days a week.” Three years ago Vine Fresh Acres first started a trial of six months with Blue Radix. It was a good match from the start, says grower Jake Knelsen. “When you start something new, there are always challenges that you have to overcome. But the support we got from the team of Blue Radix helped us with that. They showed us we could trust them and we felt we were in good hands.

During the trial, we divided the greenhouse in two phases with eight zones. We allowed Blue Radix to control two zones at first and from there we kept a close eye on what was happening. Crop Controller collected all the data from the greenhouse and integrated it to autonomously control our installations. When we saw good things, that gave us the confidence to go a step further and now we all zones in both phases are controlled by Crop Controller.”

Crop Controller saves a lot of time
Jake Knelsen: “Working with Crop Controller saves a lot of time. In the past we didn’t make changes when we should have at certain moments. Now Blue Radix makes those decisions for us every five minutes. Crop Controller is therefore a tool that supports me to control a larger area. It makes my job easier and helps me oversee it all, while I can focus on other important things. But it’s not only about saving time. It’s also important to get projections by the end of the day. That knowledge helps me making decisions in my daily work.”

10% Yield increase and a better product
When it comes to crop yield, Jake Knelsen saw an increase since working with Crop Controller. “Last year was record breaking for us with a 10 percent yield increase. Crop Controller definitely contributed to that, although it’s hard to actually put a value on that. There is still room for improvement, but I think 2,5 to 5 percent of the growth was due to Autonomous Growing.” Also, the quality of the product improved, believes Knelsen. “That’s because I had more time to focus on the crop and on pest control. In that way, Crop Controller helped me to produce a better product.”

Advice for other growers
Knelsen concludes with some advice to fellow growers. “At first it will feel like you are letting go. But the reality is that you are letting go to something better. You can own a new sense of trust, knowing that your crop is in good hands. It’s worth it giving that some time.” Neufeld adds: “From the perspective as a CEO it also has to make sense financially. My recommendation is therefor to do a trial and find out if it works for you. We did, and now we know it’s definitely worth the investment for our company.”