Mildew, also known as white blight, has been a problem for strawberry growers for years. Reason for Coöperatie Hoogstraten and Proefcentrum Hoogstraten to look for a solution for the growers. This was found in the application of UV-C.
Once that proved effective, the next step was automation. That step has now also been taken. Last week, a UV-C robot successfully passed the final test before final delivery, as can be seen in the video below.
Now the first practical grower is going to work with the robot in his greenhouse, says Peter Rombouts, Field Service Specialist of the cooperative. "Last summer, growers still doubted whether the robot would do its job well independently in the greenhouse. That is why we chose as a cooperative to purchase three robots so that the growers did not have to make a large investment in something that was not yet fully developed. . ”
Subsequently, three practical companies were selected with different cultivation systems and the robot was made to measure for each company. In recent months, many practical tests have been carried out on the companies involved.
It was quite a journey. "It soon became apparent from tests at Research Center Hoogstraten that UV-C worked well against white blight. Only then did the robot still have to be operated manually in the greenhouse. The aim was to ensure that the grower could run the robot at night, so that the job was done in the morning. To do that, we had to be sure that the robot would continue to drive properly after the push of a button, and we did.
The UV-C robot with side shift. Photo: Octinion
On pipe rails or tires
In the video, the robot moves along pipe rails. It concerns the modular platform Xenion with Lumion from manufacturer Octinion as implement. As seen in the video, UV-C lamps are installed on the base platform. In the future, it should also be possible to support crop predictions and / or the release of biological control agents with other implements.
At the first practice grower, the robot should also drive over the pipe rails this week. Later this or next month a version will follow that runs on pneumatic tires in a greenhouse without a rail system and in a rack cultivation with small roofs. A third robot will also run on pneumatic tires in a Mini-Air system, a plastic foil greenhouse.
'Not an expensive robot'
This allows the growers to gain practical experience with it. "Expectations are good," says Peter, who acknowledges that it is a significant investment. "Fortunately, there is support from national and European subsidy funds. Moreover, we are convinced that it is not an expensive robot in the long term. Growers will be able to save considerably on labour and on the use of crop protection against mildew as soon as the robot starts working."
In addition to supporting its growers in this project, reducing the use of crop protection products is an important motivation for Coöperatie Hoogstraten. “Sustainable initiatives such as these are always received enthusiastically in our society. In this way, among other things, we can contribute. ”
Top right: the UV-C technique up close. Photo: Peter Rombouts