Optimal cultivation with the bonus of saving energy

Everyone knows Next Generation Growing (NGG), the optimal cultivation with the bonus of energy saving. NGG is based on the Plant Empowerment cultivation concept: the philosophy that a vigorous plant is a resilient plant, which is resistant to diseases and pests and yields a higher production and better quality. But how can you empower a plant? And why should every grower apply it? Peter Geelen explains, being one of the founders of Plant Empowerment, in cooperation with Jan Voogt and Peter van Weel.

Technology at the service of the plant

“It has been 15 years since Peter, Jan, and I met. Our common drive was our curiosity. All three of us noticed many questions about how a crop grows and reacts to its environment. At that time, a lot was invested in technology development, but often plants reacted differently than hoped and expected. Examples of applied technologies are high-pressure fog systems in a greenhouse, greenhouses’ cooling, and all kinds of fans and air hoses. These applied techniques often raised more questions rather than promoting the growth and quality of the crop. This brought us back to the basics: the physical principles and physiological processes of the plants. Soon we concluded that the technique should not be an end in itself, but a means to use the natural strength of the plant.”

As a result of this multidisciplinary collaboration, an entirely new, integrated cultivation concept came into being when profitability and sustainability go hand in hand.

Plant-based cultivation
An important turnaround that Plant Empowerment has brought about is planned cultivation. In other words: controlled by data and not by feelings, Peter explains.

“This means that you give strategy precedence over experience. The cultivation strategy of Plant Empowerment is based on the physical and physiological principles of plants. The advantage of an objectivated cultivation strategy is that you can measure, compare, control, repeat, and improve it better.”

Young inexperienced growers already show that you can spectacularly accelerate the learning curve this way.

Promoting plant health with screens
Peter emphasizes the importance of using climate screens to empower the plant, with three important goals: controlling the greenhouse humidity, creating a uniform greenhouse climate, and limiting heat emission.

“Humidity has always been seen as a problem. You can use a climate screen to control the humidity at night better was a huge eye-opener. This has led to more efficient use of screens and creating a more even greenhouse climate; by no longer creating gaps with the screen but by ventilating above the screen to discharge more humidity. This has led to considerably more screen hours, reducing energy consumption in combination with a powerful and healthy crop.”

Another important breakthrough from the Plant Empowerment philosophy is using screens against heat emission.

“When the sun goes down and the supply of energy drops, the warm crop radiates energy to the cold greenhouse roof. The (partial) closing of the screen protects the crop from heat emission. This results in a healthier crop because stronger cells are created, and there is less risk of excessive root pressure and condensation at the top of the crop. This significantly reduces the risk of fungal infestation and quality problems. Climate screens are therefore not only good for insulation, but they also protect the crop against heat emission.”

Peter emphasizes that although climate screens are part of a successful application of Plant Empowerment, the final yield depends on the limiting factor.

“You can install such a good screen, but if the root medium is not optimal or the automation in the greenhouse does not work properly, those are the limiting factors. Plant Empowerment is a holistic concept that gives you more insight into that limiting factor.”

The measuring box above the screen is an indispensable instrument
To objectify the aforementioned applications of screens, Peter believes that a measuring box, with a temperature and humidity measurement above the screen, is indispensable to monitor the climate in the greenhouse properly and make optimal use of a climate screen.

When you are screening against heat emission, you want the temperature above and below the screen to remain the same so that the screen does not inhibit the cooling of the greenhouse. And if you close the screen 100% at night, it has to be opened sometime in the morning again. With a measuring box above the screen, you can choose the right moment. You don’t want it to be too cold above the screen when you start opening the screen.

With a measuring box, you can also measure the humidity above the screen, which is a valuable indication of how much capacity there is to discharge humidity through the screen and how effective ventilating above the screen is. Therefore, one simple measuring box above the screen is enough for a grower to very effectively promote plant health in three different ways.