The world’s first Autonomous Greenhouse Manager

07-04-2021    14:56   |    Goedemorgen

Early February, Geert van der Wel started in the role of Autonomous Greenhouse Manager at Blue Radix. He represents the human support side of the Crop Controller service in addition to the smart algorithms that control greenhouses. Read more about how Geert helps customers and about his background. As he says himself: "I was almost literally born among tomatoes in De Lier, where my parents had a tomato greenhouse."

Name: Geert van der Wel

Home: I’ve been married to Tessa for 16 years and we have two children. We have lived in Burgundian West Brabant since 1998.

Childhood: Almost literally, I was born among the tomatoes in De Lier, where my parents had a tomato greenhouse.

Study: I completed Secondary Horticultural School in De Lier, and also undertook several (horticultural) studies.

Work experience: I worked in my parents’ tomato greenhouse right from my childhood. After finishing my studies my partner and I became owners of Kwekerij Polderwel for ten years, growing tomatoes on 2.5 hectares. We wound up this undertaking because of the construction of the A4 highway between Antwerp and Rotterdam. Then I did three years as a manager at the Nuijten plant nursery, and when this firm ceased trading I ended up at Nickerson-Zwaan in Made; it later became known as Hazera Seeds. For the first four years I worked in the Planning & Control department, moving on to become Product Manager High-Tech Tomatoes for the final five years.

 

What can you do for growers as an Autonomous Greenhouse Manager?

“Blue Radix offers autonomous growing as a service. So alongside our smart algorithms controlling the greenhouse, our Crop Controller service also has a ‘human side’, and customers get daily support from an off-site Autonomous Greenhouse Manager (AGM). So as that AGM I’m constantly looking over the customer’s shoulder, and I’m their first point of contact. Right from the start I guide clients intensively in taking their first steps into the world of algorithms. They are given an extensive onboarding program where they get explanations on the steps to autonomous growing, the operation of the algorithms, and the Crop Controller portal. I also monitor the management of the greenhouse continuously, and discuss the progress on a regular basis, including through reports. My work experience has taken me through all the processes involved, from seed to the final product. This is what enables me to support our customers fully as AGM, to advise them, and to help them to realize their crop strategies.”

 

Blue Radix offers autonomous growing as a service; why is this important?

“Cultivation is the core business of every greenhouse company. To leave this completely to autonomous control requires a lot of trust from the customer. We are very aware that autonomous growing is still quite new and innovative. Providing a good service with the support of the AGM lets us guide growers fully in working with algorithms. Our experience shows that customers are more likely to abandon their own processes and working methods step by step, because there’s always someone monitoring the entire process.”

 

Describe your day. How do you monitor greenhouses worldwide?

“Every day I open the Crop Controller portal to see how the algorithms are behaving in terms of our various customers’ crop strategies. I contact the grower if any anomalies appear, or if there’s a technical issue I get in touch with the Blue Radix product developers. This also applies to feedback I receive from customers on how we can optimize Crop Controller still further.”

 

What do you like about your job? And what are your views on autonomous greenhouse management?

“In the horticultural world it’s great to see that there’s a continuous search for innovations, and specifically for autonomous growing. I used sensors and digital tools on a small scale when I was a grower myself. But at that time I got very little guidance on how they worked and how to interpret it all. Now I use this experience to give our customers good information, so that ultimately they’ll be able to grow autonomously in the best possible way!”

 

Got a question for Geert, or about autonomous growing generally?

Send us a message, and we’ll be happy to help you.


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