Research grants were recently awarded to more than 75 scientists, along with the business community and various organizations in the Netherlands. Subsidies from NWO (the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research) will go to six major research programs that were approved on November 8. The research will focus on developing hardier lettuce varieties and new robots for food production, plus a few other projects.
In addition to the 19 million euros from NWO, 9 million euros is funded by companies and other organizations participating in the research. The robotics research receives 4 million euros, while the lettuce study gets 6 million euros.
Knowledge improves lettuce
How can you ensure that lettuce and other healthy leafy vegetables also grow well during dry, hot conditions such as last summer? And how can you let them thrive in saline soil, under pressure from pathogens or in multilayer cultivation under LED lighting? The LettuceKnow program uses lettuce as a model crop for scientific research into the optimal genetic composition of leafy vegetables and other so-called composite plants, such as sunflowers and chicory.
In this program (LettuceKnow: Science-Based Improvement of Salad) six large vegetable growers will work together with twelve scientific research groups and the Center for Genetic Resources. The researchers combine knowledge about genetic varieties and their activity in more than 500 mainly wild lettuce varieties with advanced phenotyping, bioinformatics and machine learning techniques. They want to find out how genetic differences determine growth and resilience. They want to use this knowledge to develop healthy, strong lettuce varieties that can withstand changing climate conditions, plant diseases and new growing conditions. More details can be found here.
4 million euros for smart flexible robots
Food production has to be as hygienic, efficient and sustainable as possible. Also, people are less willing to do repetitive and heavy work in hot greenhouses or in refrigerated areas where, for example, chicken products are processed. Robots can offer a solution here, but then they have to be able to deal with the large variations in shape, size and hardness of different food products. That is still a challenge. The FlexCRAFT program is developing new robot technology to automatically harvest tomatoes, for example. Robots also have to help with the processing of foodstuffs, such as the processing and packaging of chicken products or packages of biscuits in boxes with different dimensions.
The Netherlands is the second largest exporter of agrofood products worldwide, and the third largest supplier of technology for the agrofood sector. This program contributes to strengthening the Dutch competitive position in these sectors. You can read more about the program here, and also on the website of Wageningen University & Research.
The other research projects that received funding are advanced imaging techniques to detect vascular diseases, clean chemical processes for the storage of green electricity, smarter optical measurement techniques and more knowledge about the use of bubbles in maritime applications.