4 years ago

The Partnership no. 10

  • Text
  • Enza
  • Zaden
  • Partnership
  • Products
  • Cultivation
  • Radish
  • Crops
  • Varieties
  • Plants
  • Breeding

“Once you’ve got it

“Once you’ve got it to work, it will work anywhere" PFALs “All that can in principle indeed be realised with the present state of the art,” says Spinach Product Specialist and Indoor & Hydroponic Lettuce Specialist Jan van Kuijk. “Japanese and Taiwanese technology firms especially have invested large sums of money in this in the past few years. In those two countries there are now around 160 of these PFALs of different sizes. The form of cultivation is also referred to as ‘multilayer cultivation’, ‘urban farming’ or ‘vertical farming’ – they all work according to the same principle.” According to Van Kuijk the largest of these factories, which are actually not even that impressive in terms of size, produce around 20,000 heads of top-quality lettuce a day. Pioneering market Japan Young Han, Area Manager for Japan and Korea of Enza Zaden Export, confirms this. “In Japan this form of horticulture is attracting a lot of interest, especially among technology firms that were not originally involved in horticulture; they see it as a promising longterm opportunity.” There is a concrete reason for the fact that Japan in particular is so very interested in this new phenomenon: the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, which rendered the surrounding area radioactive, making it unsuitable for agricultural use for dozens of years. “It’s easier to guarantee the food safety of crops that are grown in fully conditioned, sealed areas,” Han explains. “It’s not surprising that precisely Japanese consumers and retailers are particularly concerned about food safety. This also explains the sudden interest in horticulture among Japanese technology giants such as Fuji and Toshiba. Such cultivation systems are entirely dependent on software and electronics.” High risk This technological dependence is both the greatest strength and the biggest weakness of those systems. Whether or not they are successful depends on the reliability of the employed technology. A sudden failure in the lighting or irrigation system that can’t be quickly repaired can make an entire crop worthless. Van Kuijk: “Traditional cultivation methods always have a certain buffering capacity. Whether a plant grows in the soil, in containers or in substrate slabs, it will always have a supply of water and nutrients. And there will always be daylight. The day length and intensity of the light may vary, depending on where a crop is grown. They are factors that you consider in determining which varieties to grow. Low light intensities or short days can be partly compensated with grow lighting, as is indeed often done in today’s high-tech greenhouse horticulture. In the event of a failure, the crop will then have to temporarily make do with the natural light. That will of course have a slight impact on the crop’s production, but at least such a failure won’t be fatal.” Bitter experience Han and Van Kuijk can quote numerous examples of companies that enthusiastically invested in multilayer cultivation only to go bankrupt within one or two years. In almost all cases the system was insufficiently robust to realise good cultivation results time and time again. And that is necessary, because a PFAL involves high investments. So then you’re really learning by bitter experience, and not everyone has the patience or resources for that. “Enza Zaden is also investigating such a system on a small scale in the Netherlands,” says Van Kuijk. “We’re learning a lot, and in that respect it meets our expectations.” Always spring Even so, a growing number of companies seem to have overcome the teething problems and to be capable of ensuring systematically profitable cultivation in a PFAL. And not only in Japan. This phenomenon is also becoming more established in Europe and in the United States, where multilayer cultivation is used mostly for babyleaf products and young curly kale. The same holds for the Gulf states in the Middle East, where resources are available and such cultivation systems are considered rewarding investment projects. They offer the population and tourists fresh, locally grown vegetables and reduce the countries’ dependence on import. On top of that, the products that are offered for sale in shops or on the market are much fresher. “If the technology is reliable enough, such systems offer you the most fantastic production figures,” Van Kuijk readily admits. “Because you can always create ideal growing conditions for your crop. In most PFALs it’s always spring, because that is the period in which most leafy crops develop fastest. Our spring varieties are very popular among these companies.” Different recipes But these cultivation systems should not all be lumped together, the Product Specialist warns. For a start, there are substantial differences in the employed technology. Some crops are grown under LED lamps, others under strip lighting. The colour, duration and intensity of the lighting vary, as do climate conditions and fertilisation schedules. So a single lettuce variety can be grown according to many different recipes, depending on the grower’s conditions and personal preferences. The harvesting stage also varies from one country to another, and from one company to another. “This multitude of variables makes choosing a variety more difficult than you may think, also because crops have never before been grown under constant conditions. In our own research into multilayer cultivation we aren’t always able to predict the results beforehand either. What certainly help are sound knowledge of the system and a good understanding of the growers’ requirements. So our advisers invest a lot of time in that.” Many more In spite of the great risks and the failures in the recent past, Young Han also believes that PFALs will come to play an ever greater part in global high-tech horticulture. “Investments are being made in new, more reliable technology on all fronts,” he states. “By technology and energy companies in Japan, by companies such as Philips Lighting, and by European and American companies with experience in greenhouse construction and measuring and control technology. There is a strong desire to make progress, and the money needed to facilitate it is available. Under the motto ‘Once you’ve got it to work, it will work anywhere’ several Japanese system designers are now also focusing on countries outside Japan. There’s not yet a great run on them, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see many times the present number of PFALs across the world in ten years’ time.” 26 | The Partnership The Partnership | 27

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