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Archive for the ‘Robotics’ Category

Karel Bolckmans, COO with Biobest:

“AI and robotics will bring us to the Olympic version of IPM”

“Data-driven growing is a big thing in horticulture in general. Many growers are into autonomous growing, data-driven greenhouse management, and advanced analytics. We’re convinced that this revolution will impact biological crop protection as well”, says Karel Bolckmans, COO with Biobest. “After all, if artificial intelligence (AI) can help you grow more efficiently and achieve higher yields, it will definitely render further improvement to your IPM program as well.”

“Since retailers want to offer a complete produce gamma year-round of for example greenhouse tomatoes and deal with as few suppliers as possible, we’re seeing an evolution towards rapid scale increase of greenhouse operations. Growers need to grow sufficient quantities of a complete offering twelve months per year, from cherry to beef tomato and everything in between. It results in bigger, multi-site, and international companies that can be complex to control. Data-driven growing enables you to keep track”, Karel explains.

“We also see that data-driven growing performs much better than growers themselves when it comes to optimizing plant growth. We’ll be moving to grow based on hard data, not on gut feeling.”

“The same is true for IPM. The results of biocontrol-based IPM tools are largely dependent on knowing exactly what is going on in the greenhouse. The better you know how your plants and their pests and their natural enemies are doing, the more efficient and effective you will be able to deploy your crop protection tools and the less chemical pesticides you will need to use.”

Partnerships and own development
In May last year, Biobest launched Crop-Scanner, which comprises a scouting App for recording the location, severity, and identity of pests and diseases in the crop. Clearly visualizing these data via its web-based interface through heatmaps and graphs allows the grower to have a better overview of the situation in his crop while allowing his Biobest advisor to give him the best possible technical advice. More recently, Biobest also entered into a partnership with the Canadian company Ecoation, which developed a mobile data harvesting platform that combines deep biology, computer vision and sensor technology, artificial intelligence, and robotics. “We’ve been in touch for several years now and recently decided to work together on creating IPM 3.0. Their camera’s, sensors, and autonomous vehicles allow us to collect the best possible data which serve as input for an artificial intelligence-based Decision Support System (DSS) that allows us to provide the growers with the best-in-class technical advice regarding integrated pest and disease management (IPM)”, Karel explains.  “At the same time, growers have been struggling with several severe virus outbreaks, of which ToBRFV and COVID were only a few. This has made it harder for us to frequently visit our customers in person to provide them with technical advice. But how to get accurate information from growers about the situation in the crop if you can’t visit them? Ecoation’s web-based user interface allows for remote counseling, thereby rendering frequent on-site technical visits are not necessary anymore.”

There’s more… Earlier this month, Biobest announced their investment in Arugga, Israeli developer of a robotic tomato pollinator. It might look like an alternative for the Biobest bumblebees – and actually, it is. “But our goal is not to sell the most bumblebees or beneficial insects and mites. We want to be the grower’s most reliable provider of the most effective solutions in pollination and integrated pest management in a world characterized by rapid innovation.” Although this might sound like a big change in policy for the company, Karel emphasizes that it is not at all as rash a decision as it might seem. “We’re convinced that having access to more accurate information of the status of pests, diseases and natural enemies in their crop will allow growers to develop more trust in biocontrol-based IPM and therefore reach out less fast to the pesticide bottle.”

We have done extensive research for over three years, studying the available technologies and patents. That way, we concluded that Ecoation made a wonderful match, not only in terms of technology but also when it came to vision and company culture. The same goes for Arugga. Their respective technologies support the development of the horticultural business to deal with the ever-increasing challenges of scale-increase, labor shortage, and market demand.”

The technologies Biobest now participates in go beyond IPM. The Ecoation technology for example also concerns yield prediction, high-resolution climate measurements, and controlling the quality of crop work. “Through the Ecoation technology anomalies can be detected much earlier, that way predicting and preventing outbreaks of pests and diseases. Non-stop measuring everywhere is our ideal. This way we will learn more about the effect of climate on the plant and, more importantly, the effects of the crop protection measures.”

Karel notices an increasing interest of growers in this kind of technology. “There is an increasing market demand for residue-free fruits and vegetables. That’s the direction we’re heading to. Our aim is to help growers do this in the best way possible: with the support of robotics and AI.”

Data collection will convince more growers
He is convinced that the data that can be collected will convince more growers to start using the Ecoation and Arugga technologies. “We see now that pioneers in North America are highly interested and are currently successfully trialing these technologies. But it’s more than that: what we sell, is a production increase because of less plant stress from pests and diseases. Moreover, every single pesticide treatment causes plant stress and therefore negatively influences crop yield. This is very well known among experienced growers. ”

He remembers when a couple of decades ago, they saw the same when growers started switching from chemical crop protection to IPM. “I vividly remember 2006-2007 in Spain when many growers made the switch to biological control. They didn’t want to, they were forced by the retailers after the publication of a report on pesticide residues on Spanish produce by Greenpeace Germany. But at the end of that year, everybody was picking more and better peppers. In Kenya and elsewhere, rose growers who switch to biocontrol-based IPM pick more flowers, with a long stem and a better vase life. However, stories like this have never been scientifically quantified and published but are very well known to everyone in the industry. With our technologies, we will be able to immediately and continuously measure the exact effects of IPM on crop yield. Less work, more objective data. That means harvesting more kilos with less effort. AI and robotics will bring us to the Olympic version of IPM.”For more information:Biobestinfo@biobestgroup.comwww.biobestgroup.com

Publication date: Fri 25 Jun 2021
Author: Arlette Sijmonsma
© HortiDaily.com

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