“In the past, we could only rely on our green fingers. Now we can complement that knowledge with reliable data,” says Sander Middelburg of Leen Middelburg Chrysanthemums. At the location in Maasdijk – and at some other locations of Zentoo – they are busy monitoring the crop using ADI’s vision technology; the data is then integrated into Delphy’s growth models. Middelburg: “If we understand the chrysanthemums better, we can make better cultivation decisions.”
Growers strive day in and day out for an optimal and sustainable harvest. Knowledge of the crop is essential for this, says chrysanthemum grower Sander Middelburg. And technology can help with that. That’s why Middelburg started searching for good camera technology to learn more about the chrysanthemums a few years ago. The idea was that the camera had to be mobile and not fixed in one position. Middelburg: “Chrysanthemum cultivation is very dynamic. We harvest and plant every day, so the crop is different every day.”
Data-driven chrysanthemum cultivation
Other growers within the Zentoo growers’ association were also looking for a similar solution. A steering group was started together with breeder Deliflor, fertilizer supplier Van Iperen, and Delphy to explore how data-driven chrysanthemum cultivation could be promoted. One of the projects of the steering group is the use of cameras to measure the crop. This involves collaboration with AgriData Innovations (ADI), the Delft-based company that initially started with drones but has been focused on camera technology and computer vision software for crop monitoring for the last three years.
Business developer Pim van Geest of ADI: “Drones are small and light. That’s ideal, but they have challenges with battery life and achieving stable photo quality. Especially with data collection using cameras on a large scale, you want to have good photo quality and preferably as quickly as possible.” That’s why drones are no longer used at the three Zentoo growers. Instead, a method was sought where a camera could take pictures stable and fast.
Cameras on spraying booms
A spraying boom drives over the chrysanthemum crop daily, so that robot is an excellent host for a camera. Pim van Geest: “We first equipped the spraying boom with one camera that captures one bed of chrysanthemums, and currently, there are two cameras on it, capturing two beds. We’re moving towards six cameras for six beds.”
These cameras use computer vision software to measure the length, leaves, and buds of the crop. This information is then automatically imported into the QMS, the cultivation management system that Delphy developed for a large number of crops, including chrysanthemums. QMS Chrysanthemum determines how production and quality can be maximized. It uses data regarding weather, lighting, cultivation strategy, and processes that into growth models for the respective crop.
Step by step
Klaas van Egmond, Teelt Engineer at Delphy: “Growers want the data in the QMS to be reliable and consistent. That’s why the first step was to validate the data from the cameras. The growers manually measured the length of the stems, and an automatic scale checked the weight of the stems.”
The data provided by the cameras is not the only input for the QMS: climate control systems and information about the variety are also part of the QMS calculations. Van Egmond: “There is an enormous amount of data, so the development had to be done step by step. You can’t develop something like this all at once. That was a real lesson from this project.” Middelburg: “That’s inherent to projects like this. It takes longer than you hope. And sometimes, you forget the wonderful things you’ve already achieved.”
Since the end of last year, the system has been operational at three Zentoo growers, including Leen Middelburg Chrysanthemums. It will soon be introduced at two other growers, says Pim van Geest. Chrysanthemum grower Middelburg: “We now have a better understanding of how the crop feels. Over the past few months, we’ve made different cultivation decisions based on the new system. It often proves to be a real eye-opener.”
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