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"we have already sold 44,000 square meters!”

Successful trial of coating that converts UV into PAR boosts sales

Greenhouse growers have a golden rule: 1% more light entails 1% more production. This mainly involves the PAR (Photosynthetically Active Radiation) part of sunlight. In the Netherlands, the Delft-based startup Fotoniq has developed a coating that converts UV into PAR and ensures a diffuse distribution of light. In other words, more growing light in more places inside the greenhouse. Backed by the Innovation Program AgriTech, the coating was tested at two vegetable growers. "Taking part in an innovation process costs time and money, but this is something I dared try," said founder Sadiq van Overbeek in a report from InnovationQuarter.

Sometimes, innovative ideas arise by chance. Such was Fotoniq's case. Co-founder Sadiq van Overbeek was in the middle of a bicycle trip through the Westland a few years ago. He saw the greenhouses and realized how important light is for growers. This brought to mind a coating that he had developed with his company but for which he had not yet been able to think of an application. That coating converts UV light to PAR light.

Things started moving quickly after that. Van Overbeek sought contacts in horticulture and was welcomed with open arms. That resulted in a small 50m2 trial at Koppert Cress nursery in Monster. The trial showed that the coating on the greenhouse cover did indeed increase growth. "However, Koppert Cress grows cresses, which is a very different crop compared to fruiting vegetables. Bell pepper, tomato, or cucumber growers, for example, are not as interested in growth as they are in production," said Van Overbeek.

Later, a trial at a bell pepper grower also went well. And last year, Fotoniq was also able to test the coating in tomato and cucumber farms. Fred Schäpe, of Verkade Tomaten, from 's-Gravenzande, said that "the coating works. The production improves, and the plants do better and are under less stress."

Higher production
Corné van Boxel is a cucumber grower in Delfgauw. He read an article in a trade magazine about Fotoniq's coating, "which would increase the amount of growing light by 8 to 10%. That seemed interesting to me. I then sent a message. And last year, I got a call from Fotoniq, asking whether I wanted to take part in a trial."

Not much later, the coating was applied to a 600 m2 area. Van Boxel noticed that there was better light diffusion inside the greenhouse. As a result, light was reaching more places, and thus, more of the crop's leaves. The coating also provided extra light inside the greenhouse on light days. That resulted in a slight 1.7% increase in the production.

In the greenhouses of Verkade Tomatoes, the coating was even more effective. 900 m2 of the greenhouse roof were treated there, and this resulted in about 3.1% more production of truss tomatoes. Schäpe was very satisfied. "This was just a trial. By coating an entire greenhouse, the improvement will only be greater."

Growers are constantly adjusting the climate inside the greenhouse. They do that for an entire section at once, therefore, for a large part of the greenhouse. The coating at Van Boxel and Verkade Tomatoes covered only part of the greenhouse roof. The growers did not control the climate based on the part with the coating but on the part without. Van Overbeek says that "because of the coating, there was better light diffusion in the greenhouse, so the screen at the top of the greenhouse could be closed later. That, in turn, affects the temperature, humidity, and CO2 in the greenhouse, and thus growth."

No one wants to be the first customer
The cooperation between Fotoniq and the two growers was possible in the framework of the AgriTech Innovation Program. As a result, the two growers ran no financial risk in testing the coating. And that was the deciding factor, according to Schäpe. "Taking part in an innovation process costs time and money. But this is something I dared do."

"Investing in innovation is exciting for an entrepreneur. The same certainly applies to our coating. On average, a grower operates independently for about thirty years. Our coating lasts eight years. In other words, by trying our coating, a grower is taking a risk for a quarter of those thirty years. So it's a big risk," said Van Overbeek.

44,000 square meters
Consequently, many entrepreneurs in horticulture are not at the forefront when it comes to embracing innovations, according to Van Overbeek. "Nobody wants to be the first customer but the second. Because why take a risk when your neighbor can take it, and all you have to do is wait? We do everything we can to reduce the risk. That's why we fill the coated greenhouse with sensors for humidity, temperature, and light. The grower can see that data, and they can always call us if they have any questions."

Whether Van Boxel and Schäpe will decide to have their greenhouses completely covered by the coating, they dare not say yet. After all, the investments involved are large. In any case, many growers have already made the decision. Due to the positive results of the studies with tomatoes and cucumbers, the demand for the coating has increased enormously, says Van Overbeek. "The news has spread like wildfire. Because of the positive results, we have received many requests for different crops. We have already sold 44,000 square meters!"

Source: Innovation Quarter

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