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A self-described "green-finger data grower"

Carlos Mario Pinzón, a tomato grower for Tomeco in Belgium, succinctly describes himself as being a “green-finger data grower.” Arguably, this term perfectly sums up Carlos and the 14 other forward-thinking growers who traveled from all over the world to take part in 2023’s Plant Empowerment Summer School.

Steering the industry into the future
Pinzón reveals that Plant Empowerment’s five-day Summer School, which took place in Amsterdam in June 2023, was a great place to meet and spend time with his fellow delegates. There were 15 attendees in total, and each one was selected to attend the Summer School after being interviewed by the Plant Empowerment team.

“The other delegates and I already had the same level of experience with Plant Empowerment, so the Summer School was a good place to share what we knew and expand on our knowledge together. And that’s a nice feeling – knowing that you are part of an international community of growers whom, together, are steering the industry in the right direction.”

Pinzón explains that the phrase “green-finger data grower” describes how he and his Summer School colleagues are part of a new generation of growers who strive to marry traditional horticultural knowledge – the sort of knowledge that is passed down from generation to generation – with Plant Empowerment’s data-driven growing philosophy.

“The ‘green-finger’ growers know a lot and have a lot to say. So, we choose to listen to them. We appreciate the wealth of knowledge they have – a level of knowledge that shouldn’t be underestimated because they’ve led the industry to where it is today.”

Nurturing the “Green-Finger Data Growers” Movement
Today, growers like Pinzón are adopting the Plant Empowerment way of growing glasshouse crops. This approach is helping them to produce their crops more sustainably – and achieve higher yields – by using valuable data insights to maintain the plants’ natural balances – water, energy, and assimilates (sugars) – in equilibrium.

When supporting this three-way balance, plants make more efficient use of water, fertilizers, and energy. An important second effect is that plants are more resistant to pests and diseases, just as in nature.

Sharing new insights
Sponsored by Plant Empowerment’s implementation partners and members of the foundation, the Summer School was a Masterclass that consisted of both theoretical and practical sessions. During these sessions, Plant Empowerment specialists shared new insights into the Plant Empowerment theory.

Pinzón found it particularly useful to be able to update his knowledge on RTR – the ratio between temperature and radiation. A steady RTR ratio helps to maintain a balance between plantgrowth, mainly induced by light, and plantload, mainly induced by temperature.

He says: “I think we can all be constantly reviewing and improving how we produce our crops in the glasshouse. How can we optimize the RTR strategy for our crop, for example? And given that temperature-light ratio also plays an important role in creating optimum growing conditions, what light-use efficiency are we striving for? Likewise, how are we going to adjust the use of our climate screens? Because the strategic and effective utilization of screens can keep a better VPD (vapor pressure difference) during day and night, reduce irradiation at night, and therefore decrease gas consumption – allowing us to grow more sustainable crops.”

The tomato grower adds that, during the Summer School, he was reminded of the great variation that can occur in tomato crops’ vertical profiles. There can be, for instance, a five-degree (5°C) temperature difference between the roots and the top of the plant – differences that the implementation of the Plant Empowerment principles can help moderate.

Drawing inspiration from industry
Pinzón recalls how the Summer School group members were inspired by their visit to the BASF Vegetable Seeds’ site. There, they were able to see, first hand, how the application of the Plant Empowerment, data-driven philosophy – making intelligent use of data – helped the breeder to achieve a yield of 121 kilograms of tomatoes. “We went to visit BASF, and I was so inspired by what I saw there that, shortly after the Summer School, I visited them again to learn more about their growing strategy.”

The tomato grower was also impressed by the latest innovations from Plant Empowerment implementation partners in data transformation and useful crop insight and analyses.

Moreover, the Summer School cohort’s trip to the annual GreenTech trade show in Amsterdam proved to be inspirational for Pinzón. “Visiting GreenTech is one of the best ways to find out what’s going on in our industry and what’s new on the market, such as the huge number of companies that are producing LED light systems these days,” he says.

In a similar way in which technology companies are constantly developing new products for the commercial horticulture market, fresh produce companies – and their growers – are continually reinventing themselves by refreshing their knowledge, notes Pinzón.

A thirst for knowledge
Pinzón, who studied agronomy and crop science in his home country of Colombia, first read Plant Empowerment’s seminal book, Plant Empowerment, The Basic Principles, in 2019 while completing a two-year internship for the tomato producer Intergrow (now Sungrow Farms) in New York state in the US. He expects to return to Sungrow in the summer of 2024 when he’s finished his studies.

By all accounts, Pinzón is a busy bee. He is currently working as a grower for Tomeco and studying for an Executive MBA in Food and Agribusiness at Wageningen University & Research and TIAS School for Business and Society.

He says: “At Intergrow, I started out as an intern and became an assistant grower. I realized that the head grower’s level of knowledge was pretty high compared to mine. So, I started looking at what I could learn, and that’s when I came across the Plant Empowerment, The Basic Principles book. Then afterward, I joined a ten-session online course, ‘The power of integrated solutions.’”

He adds: “Once you’ve read the Plant Empowerment book you have that knowledge but of course it’s always good to refresh and update your understanding of the Plant Empowerment principles. And as a grower, you also need to know how to apply that knowledge in real life. So, I came to Europe specifically to learn all I can about growing – and I’m doing that in an area that has the highest number of commercial glasshouse growers in the world.”

As part of his quest for knowledge, Pinzón therefore attended the Plant Empowerment Summer School to refresh his understanding of and learn how to better apply the Plant Empowerment principles. “Attending the Plant Empowerment Summer School is one of the best ways in which, as a grower, you can reinvent yourself, because you’re updating your knowledge in the best possible way.”

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