Berg Hortimotive Group, consisting of Berg Hortimotive and HortiKey, has transferred the first series of Plantalyzer crop estimate robots for tomatoes to Royal Brinkman. The robot runs autonomously through the greenhouse and takes targeted pictures of the tomatoes. Vision software and algorithms assess fruit maturity and translate the images into a reliable and accurate crop estimate. ‘We are very proud of the result of the cooperation’, says board member Ramon Verdel of Royal Brinkman. ‘This is something growers have really been waiting for’.
Ramon Verdel (left), Marco van der Velden (centre) and Andreas Hofland (right) with the first series of Plantalyzers at Berg Hortimotive Group
The transfer is the provisional culmination of four years of development work by Berg Hortimotive (mechanisation) and HortiKey (digitisation), with input from Wageningen University & Research (phenotyping software), LetsGrow.com (forecasting) and Prominent/Roots Growers (testing).
‘In 2018 we presented the first prototype, and we have worked hard over the past two years to raise the functionality and reliability of the concept to the level that growers demand’, explains General Manager Andreas Hofland of HortiKey. ‘In this context, the commitment of the Prominent growers' organisation and Roots Growers nursery was invaluable’.
The ingenuity of the Plantalyzer lies in the unique interplay between high-quality hardware and intelligent software. A measurement protocol has been developed for reliable, random data collection, and photographs are taken at three different heights to monitor the crop and fruit development over time. Phenotyping software identifies and classifies the trusses and fruits for maturity. The data are then sent to LetsGrow.com, where in combination with other crop and climate data, a progressive crop estimate is composed for the next four weeks.
Plantalyzer in the greenhouse during identification and classification
Reliable crop estimate
Reliable crop estimates are of strategic importance for nurseries, Verdel points out. Now they have to rely on human observations. This is expensive and prone to errors or differences in interpretation. Combined with the right software, autonomous robots can make predictions that are more reliable and at lower cost. ‘This solution integrates seamlessly with the developments in data-driven cultivation’, says the director responsible for product innovation. ‘We will continue with our programme to automate and digitise production and harvest processes in the greenhouse. The Plantalyzer is the first product resulting from this’.
The Let's Improve Together programme was initiated two years ago by Royal Brinkman. General manager and CEO Marco van der Velden of Berg Hortimotive Group: ‘As sister companies, we have had a close and very fruitful collaboration. The first five robots will soon make their way to the market and the next series is already being built. We had expected most interest from Dutch and Belgian companies, which is true, but there is also serious interest in among other places Mexico, North America and Russia. Good service and support are required and thanks to the global network of the group as a whole, we are in a good position to provide that as well’.