Greenhouse horticulture plays a key role in fresh fruit and vegetable production for a growing population. Over the past decades, greenhouse businesses have become larger and larger, and cultivation increasingly complex: growers nowadays have to balance production with the use of energy, water, and nutrients. To top it all off, there is a scarcity of skilled labor that can oversee all the complex processes in a greenhouse.
At present, a grower has to decide on the right setpoints for all parameters at every moment: heating, ventilation, dehumidification, shading, artificial lighting, crop management actions, scouting for pests and diseases, and release of predators or precision spraying are among the decisions to be made. A well-educated and very experienced grower can oversee most aspects of such a system. However, soon there will be too few of these highly skilled growers worldwide.
“What we need is an autonomous greenhouse,” says Anja Dieleman, AGROS project leader and researcher at WUR Greenhouse Horticulture. “In such a greenhouse, the crop takes center stage, and cultivation is controlled based on pre-determined goals. Prerequisites are extensive knowledge of crop physiology, accurate sensors that can measure relevant crop characteristics, and intelligent algorithms to control the greenhouse autonomously.”
To feed a growing population with fresh fruit and vegetable in the future, the new production systems need to be developed so that they can be operated by less experienced growers and even by non-agricultural investors anywhere in the world.
In the AGROS project ‘Towards an autonomous greenhouse,’ WUR Greenhouse Horticulture researchers are working together with business partners to realize fully automated cultivation in greenhouses. Anja: “We have taken steps from data collection with sensors to data-driven support of cultivation and the development of intelligent algorithms. Soon we hope to be able to apply them and further improve sustainable production systems for healthy and fresh food.”
The research team’s vision of the future is an autonomous greenhouse in which the expert knowledge of an experienced grower is replaced by artificial intelligence. With new model-based control algorithms, the conditions in the greenhouse can be autonomously adjusted to achieve the cultivation goals.
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