Oct. 25, 2010, Amsterdam – We’ve just completed Day One of the weeklong “The Sustainability Initiative,” a project of the Office of the Agricultural Counselor at the Netherlands Embassy in Washington. You can follow along, and indeed participate, by visiting www.thesustainabilityinitiative.org.
The tour is off to a fast start, with the 10 delegates joining our tour hosts in visiting three leading research facilities today. This was innovation overload for most of us, as researchers outlined a host of leading edge technologies, either on the drawing board or almost perfected. The tour stops included:
• Wageningen UR Greenhouse Horticulture facilities, which included discussions of current energy optimization research, among other projects…
• … and the adjacent Improvement Centre (with a tour focus today on the work by Philips on potential LED intercanopy lighting strategies, used in conjunction with high-pressure sodium lamps, for tomatoes)...
• ... and finally, the Demokwekerij Westland facilities of TNO, an independent Dutch research institute which has 50 greenhouse horticulture specialists. Some 6,000 growers from around the world visit this centre each year to view the latest projects from many of the Netherlands’ leading greenhouse companies. A one-stop shopping concept, so to speak.
The take home messages for me?
One speaker summed it up by noting that great technology and innovation is only part of the puzzle; it must be accompanied by thorough training and education of growers in the new systems. Workshops would be great in regions with large concentrations of growers, and one delegate suggested webinars would be effective for growers in other regions.
Another take home message was in the co-operative relationship between growers and innovators. Grower input was stressed as being essential for the success of all three centres visited today. Many of the best sustainability ideas and technology refinements come from growers; indeed, considerable research is being carried out in commercial greenhouses.
And new technology must be customized to local conditions. What works well in the Netherlands will often need fine-tuning to work as well in other greenhouse regions.
Sustainability requires greater efficiencies. Research has led to increased yields with less inputs, especially of energy and water. Growers need to continue their involvement in such programs, with feedback and funding. The payback period on such support is often surprisingly short.