Project Next Generation Growing (NGG): Step on it! is intended to motivate growers to hit the road towards the NGG and to redirect their mindset based on new knowledge and capabilities. This project has been requested by Jasper den Besten’s HAS lectorate: Expertise & Research Centre in New Cultivation Systems (ERC), and has been made possible by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (ANFQ) and the Dutch Stichting Innovatie Alliantie (translation: Taskforce for Applied Research).
What is the NGG exactly? Jasper explains: “The Next Generation Growing is a growing method based on new findings in the greenhouse climate combined with the evolved role of the grower. Growing strategies used to stem from the desire to save energy with the least amount of investment in technology feasible, whereas the NGG approaches growing from the plant’s needs. A plant that is in balance is a more resilient and optimally producing crop. This not only requires less energy, but also delivers improved product quality with fewer pesticides.”
The insight that a plant in balance produces better results is not necessarily groundbreaking. “Growers are already working with plant balances, but mostly to correct the results afterwards. The NGG uses plant balances to strategically direct the crop in advance. Therefore, the principles of the NGG are geared towards prevention. By cleverly applying screens, dehumidification, misting and CO2, not only are crop results optimised, but energy savings are actualised as well.
Adopting the approach through education
Despite the required expertise, technology and data being widely available, the NGG has not taken off in the past 10 years quite as much as expected. This project is aimed at accelerating the adoption of the NGG through education. After all, today’s students are the entrepreneurs or advisors of tomorrow.
Jasper: “The student and his education are at the basis of the NGG being applied in practice. The link between the Secondary Vocational Education (mbo), Higher Professional Education (hbo) and the Greenhouse as a Source of Energy (GSE) programme, who, together, create the learning environment, are of significant added value.”
Leo Oprel, senior policy officer at the Dutch Ministry of ANFQ and closely involved in the GSE programme, endorses the NGG: “Sustainability is the major social-cultural challenge. The Next Generation Growing opens a door to that desired sustainable greenhouse horticulture without a need for fossil energy. The next generation will turn it into reality. ANFQ regards education as the indispensable location to shape that next generation and prepare them for that future.
The ERC decided on a practice-oriented approach which centres on applications geared towards training companies. Students graduate at these companies, supported by their teachers and a team of independent experts consisting of advisors and researchers from WUR, LetsGrow.com, Delphy, Proeftuin Zwaagdijk/World Horti Center, hao/mbo and InHolland Business Research Studies. According to Jasper, “This allows growers to take responsible next steps with the Next Generation Growing approach.”
The knowledge generated by graduation projects is shared in multiple ways through so ‘learning communities’. This allows for identification of general bottlenecks. Strawberry grower Rob van Enckvort of the Peelkroon is one of the training companies involved in the project. To the question why he participates, he answers, “As an industry we have made tremendous progress in the area of energy savings and CO2 reduction, but, undoubtedly, much more is possible. With increased knowledge and support, we also increase our ability to seize opportunities to save energy and reduce CO2, also allowing us to spot which unturned stones still lie ahead.
Thanks to the unique approach of the project, practice-oriented research from the hbo is being developed in cooperation with the mbo. Simultaneously, a network of mbo and hbo students and education institutions is being created. The knowledge gained may be broadly applied in the curricula of the involved education institutions, courses by Greenhouses as a Source of Energy and in the offering of the CIV-Tuinbouw (Translation: Center for Innovative Craftsmanship Horticulture).
Jasper: “Thanks to the implementation of flexible and adaptive education, we at HAS now have the opportunity to fundamentally change our approach. A circumstance in practice triggers the students to look for relevant theory, so why won’t we take this as our starting point? This way, the practical applications of theory is immediately evident.”
The consortium partners of ‘NGG: Step on it!’ are the four agricultural universities of applied sciences: HAS Hogeschool, Hogeschool InHolland, Aeres Hogeschool and Hogeschool Van Hall Larenstein; the CIV-Tuinbouw; knowledge institutions Wageningen UR and Delphy; Greenhouses as a Source of Energy; LetsGrow.com; Proeftuin Zwaagdijk/World Horti Center; trade organisations; suppliers; and horticultural companies.
Source: HAS Hogeschool