After a “silent phase” of developing and testing two innovations by growers in the greenhouse, Plantfellow has gotten its nose into the grindstone in recent months. The two new product lines of the Sobolt horticultural brand, founded in 2017, have been exhibited at several horticultural fairs and events.
This is the preparation for a move upmarket and a large-scale launch in 2023, reveals Jasper van der Auweraert, who since this year has been the face of the horticultural brand, with Dennis van der Wiel. At trade shows and events, they showcased the ScoutCam digital screening solution and the AutoPheno phenotyping solution.
Jasper (left) at GreenTech Amsterdam 2022 with colleagues Mees Fröberg and Dennis van der Wiel
Summer 2021 has been “development season” for the young brand, this year is “the year of proof” in Jasper’s words. “The first hordes of ScoutCams are now operating in the greenhouse and doing their job well. Growers are learning to work with them and gaining confidence.”
The ScoutCam was tested on five crops in 2021: cucumber, pepper, tomato, chrysanthemum and gerbera. The development of the system began following questions from producers. “In our initial phase, we talked a lot with parts of the sector and visited producers. They asked for automatic pest detection systems, but said none were available yet.
Systems existed for phenotyping. “But they’re quite expensive,” says Jasper. “With AutoPheno, we are offering a lower cost system that can do 90% of the work for the grower. Not everyone wants to drive a Ferrari. A Tesla is fine too.”
Although at first glance the ScoutCam and the AutoPheno are quite different, if only in terms of size, there are still some similarities between the two systems. “Our own expertise had to meet the requirements of the horticultural sector. This turned out to be the case. At Sobolt, we already have experience in other sectors with 2D and 3D image recognition.”
Pests and biological control agents
Plantfellow focuses on cultivation with the ScoutCam, and with AutoPheno initially on breeding, propagation and research. Going forward, Jasper also sees opportunities to bring technology to culture. “The vertical farming market is interesting here. Many things have been automated, but phenotyping for good crop control is still often lacking.
In terms of pest detection, growers lacked systems capable of monitoring thrips. “For whiteflies, however, there were already systems in place,” says Jasper. “We monitor both types of pests. We are now seeing the first positive results in grower greenhouses, which is unique with this type of system for thrips.
Next year, many more growers are expected to familiarize themselves with the possibilities of the digital scouting solution. Plantfellow also wants to add other pests, including in other crops. “Insects are flying everywhere. The next step will be monitoring biological control agents.”
What sets the ScoutCam apart is its stable digital count. “There are now systems for counting whiteflies using a cell phone,” says Jasper, “but those systems are more sensitive to light and the person taking the pictures than our system. That’s because that we attach the system to a greenhouse column. This gives stability. In addition, we control the lighting and the sharpness of the photos. This prevents errors.
The ScoutCam with dashboard
Now that the technology is working, Plantfellow is looking to translate ScoutCam data into information the grower can use immediately. “The information should be of immediate practical use. Think, for example, of translating a number about the number of insect pests caught on a sticky trap at a time when the grower needs to apply their biology. It s It’s about converting the information from the camera into information for the grower.”
A particular challenge in phenotyping with 2D and 3D images is scaling, notes Plantfellow. Jasper is convinced that with the experience of other sectors, it will succeed. “Automatically extracting information from 2D and 3D images in a lab environment is not the hardest thing to do, certainly not for a plant. But we want to do this for the whole greenhouse. We are already seeing harvest predictions looking down. of the culture. We want to move towards more difficult forms of crop registration. They will be necessary to pilot autonomous cultures. At that time, you will need to consider large-scale data processing and you will need a different type of cloud. system.”
As already stated, Plantfellow for AutoPheno does not yet look directly at production crops to use the phenotyping technique. However, there are already ideas on how this can be done. “When we introduce phenotyping into production, we want to connect to existing robots. This is our preference. We think we can add to what is already available in greenhouses. scale, with a lot of data, taking into account the leaves hanging in front of the plants and the lighting of the camera for good images.We draw on experience from other sectors.
Plantfellow has everything in place for the scale-up stage in 2023, notes Jasper. “We are moving very consciously at the start. In principle, we want to keep control over the introduction of the systems. The implementation in practice should go very well. That’s why we want to be on the ball. Until the At least until the first phase of scaling, we will remain in control, however, this does not mean that we will exclude collaborations in this phase, only that they will be controlled collaborations.
ScoutCam in the cultivation of gerberas
Open and international culture?
The focus is currently on the Netherlands. Internationally, however, they are already exploring the possibilities. A mission to the United States earlier this year bears witness to this. “Initial discussions with parties in North America are ongoing.” Jasper and the team have also met international interested parties at trade shows. What struck him the most was a question about using the ScoutCam in open culture. “We are now focusing on greenhouse cultivation. Outdoor cultivation takes place on a much larger scale. There, monitoring pests everywhere on site is at least as big a challenge. We therefore definitely keep the possibility of switching to outdoor cultivation at the back. of our minds.”