Hands-free cultivation in horticulture, wouldn’t that be great?! You buy a tomato factory, stick in a bag of seeds at the front end, and eventually on the other side, out pops trays of tomatoes that have been cultivated cleanly, safely and at a fair price, the so-called true price. All this without involving any manual labor. Or, for floriculture, you simply take a small plant from a tissue culture lab, put it into the pipeline at one end and out come boxes of beautifully crafted bunches of gerberas that the customers themselves have picked out online.
For many years already, robots have played an important role in replacing labor in automotive manufacturing. However, compared to natural products like tomatoes or roses, there is much less variety involved in these processes. That car consistently stops at the same place and the screw that needs to be tightened looks the same each and every time as well. When it comes to greenhouse horticulture, every greenhouse and cultivation system is different. The crops also vary a great deal. What’s more, the business model is often not so easy to figure out if you only take into account the replacement of labor by cheaper robotic solutions.
At the same time, a lot is already possible in terms of technology. The development of vision technology and AI has been substantial in recent years. In order to translate the potential of this technology into concrete solutions, tech developers – especially those from outside of horticulture – need to understand how cultivation and production take place in our greenhouses. For their part, horticulturalists need to understand how the technology can benefit them and where the biggest gains can be made. It is important that we work together to determine the steps that lead to joint development and business. Key in this are the words: together, steps and business.
The issues are too great to be resolved by a cultivation or tech specialist alone. In addition, it is important to work towards your final goal step by step. Because it is a complex matter that encompasses much more than just technology, you will have to work towards it in stages and, above all, test each of the intermediary steps. Not only do you have to test whether the proposed solution works in a technical sense, but you also have to check whether the employees can work with it. As well as whether there are any potential profit models.
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