Sign up for our daily Newsletter and stay up to date with all the latest news!

Subscribe I am already a subscriber

You are using software which is blocking our advertisements (adblocker).

As we provide the news for free, we are relying on revenues from our banners. So please disable your adblocker and reload the page to continue using this site.

Click here for a guide on disabling your adblocker.

Sign up for our daily Newsletter and stay up to date with all the latest news!

Subscribe I am already a subscriber

Tomato plant 'tamed' for robot concept like 'a car wash'

"Like a car in the car wash, so is the plant in our robotic concept". Saia Agrobotics is putting this remarkable promise into practice, bit by bit, a year later. The greenhouse to demonstrate their innovative ideas is now in Ede, Netherlands. A year-round tomato crop has been started, making it possible for the first time to see in more detail what the bright minds have come up with. However, it is not yet possible to delve into every detail, as evidenced by a visit to the company's stand at GreenTech Amsterdam.

At the stand, Bas Froon and Ruud Barth showed visitors a video that shed some light on their concept. A recent presentation by Bas at a Delphy knowledge event generated questions about, among other things, how they manage the roots and length of the tomato plant when the plant comes to the robot instead of the other way around.

Bas and Ruud at GreenTech Amsterdam

Regular varieties
It is now clear that Saia Agrobotics is growing regular tomato varieties in the new greenhouse in Ede, not on substrate. They also opted for a greenhouse with natural sunlight rather than a lightless environment, a decision made last summer. In the booth video, which is also available on Saia's website, we see the plants with bare, white roots hanging.

One cannot see the plants all the way to the bottom of the greenhouse, but they are visible during transport, which is deliberate. The planting system is patented. Select groups of interested parties are now invited to Ede to see the whole concept, but under an NDA. "It's different, but not difficult," Bas explains. "Our system is not dependent on specific genetics." They use several tomato varieties in Ede for ongoing cultivation.

Crop work outside the greenhouse
At Delphy, the Chief Commercial Officer explained that the robots perform four tasks at once when the plant reaches the 'washing line.' "Leaf picking and harvesting can be done in seven seconds."

The video shows some of this process. In the hall with robots, a gripper grabs the stem of the plant and holds it in place. Then, a kind of inverted hopper with shielded blades moves along the stem, picking leaves and harvesting bunches. Both the stems with leaves and the harvested bunches then disappear via a conveyor belt.

What happens next in the 1,000-square-meter 'tomato factory' at the World Food Center site in Ede remains to be seen. The concept aims for 'hands-free growing,' meaning nobody needs to enter the greenhouse. All crop operations are done in the processing hall. Meanwhile, seeing each plant every week provides valuable data.

The greenhouse in Ede where Saia Agrobotics shows the complete concept to the market.

"The challenge is in the whole"
The product, tested in separate parts for three years at WUR, Botany, and breeding company BASF | Nunhems, is in phase TRL-8, which is the stage before it becomes a commercial product. The goal for this year is to further develop the prototype into a version that can run in a grower's pilot next year.

In the following years, Saia Agrobotics, which raised capital in late 2022 to accelerate and scale up, aims to enter the market. "We have the individual parts under control now. The challenge is in the whole," Bas shared with the audience at Delphy. At GreenTech Amsterdam, a glimpse of that whole was on display for the first time.

For more information:
Ruud Barth and Bas Froon
Saia Agrobotics
+31 (0)317 700 205

Publication date: