Innovative Systems in the Horticultural Industry

“Using Combined Heat and Power will save 20-30% on energy bills”

Interview Erik van Berkum

Interview with Mr. Erik van Berkum, General Manager of Hoogendoorn America Inc.
Hoogendoorn is known as the most innovative supplier of process automation systems in the horticultural industry. For 40 years, the company has been striving towards the optimal greenhouse climate, increasing crop yields, and managing costs and risks in glasshouse horticulture.

Peppers Today talked to Mr. Erik van Berkum, General Manager of Hoogendoorn America Inc., a subsidiary of the Hoogendoorn Group in Holland, about the evolution of the company and the development of Combined Heat and Power (CHP). This is a method that enables growers—and pepper and tomato growers in particular—to cut costs by creating heat, electricity and CO2 for utilisation in an optimal environment for plants, helping these to photosynthesis.

Q. How has Hoogendoorn evolved since its beginnings?
A. Over the course of 40 years, we have learned to look at every project in a unique and individual way, regardless of its size. With innovation as our prime focus, and by integrating the latest techniques and insights into professional management, suddenly the most complex of processes appear to be surprisingly simple. We call this Growth Management. And it lies at the heart of all our services, people and products.

Q. What are the origins of Hoogendoorn America and what is your position in the company?
A. Hoogendoorn America is a subsidiary of the Hoogendoorn Group in Holland and it services the American and Asian markets. I am responsible for general management activities at Hoogendoorn America Inc. My professional career in the international horticulture industry spans more than 10 years. Within the international industry I have marketing and sales experience in more than 35 countries, enabling Hoogendoorn America Inc. to develop international market focus. Currently, I am vertically focused on market development and sales opportunities in Mexico and other parts of South America, with support activities in all business units of North America.

Q. Combined Heat and Power has been developed for many years in order to increase production profitability. How has CHP evolved recently?
A. The principles of Combined Heat and Power have not changed in recent years. Electricity is produced by burning natural gas, and the CO2 and heat can be put back into the greenhouse. The electricity can be used for lighting or it can be returned to the national grid. Using CHP will save 20-30% on energy bills.

Over the last few years CHP installations have become more efficient, and in the future we will probably see more CHP in combination with biofuels, thereby reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

Q. What other projects or concepts focused on increasing sustainability in greenhouses already exist in the market at the moment?
A. Besides CHP, there are other concepts of more sustainable greenhouses including Semi-Closed Greenhouses, LED Lighting, Thermal Heating and Energy-Producing Greenhouses, such as ELKAS, the Greenhouse without Gas, ZoWa Greenhouse and Desert Greenhouse. The good thing about there being so many initiatives is that we will progress, and one of the concepts or a combination of concepts will probably be the new mainstream system in the future.

Q. What do you think are the main reasons for the success of CHP in the Netherlands?
A. The main reason for CHP’s success in the Netherlands is the fact that growers have been able to supply electricity to the grid and produce electricity much more efficiently than the big power plants. This has given them a significant additional income or a reduction in production costs, however you may wish to define it.

“CHP is used for growers’ own energy consumption in America”

Q. And how has CHP evolved in other parts of the globe?
A. In the rest of the world, governments and electricity companies are not opening up their power grids, so growers are unable to return electricity to the grid to create additional income.
Therefore, CHP is used for growers’ own energy consumption in America. The trend in North America is more towards burning other types of fuel, such as wood chips or waste pallets. These cheaper natural resources help growers to reduce their energy bill, and their production is also more environmentally friendly, if the total CO2 balance is considered.

Q. What are the advantages for growers and other players in the sector of introducing CHP into greenhouses and glasshouses?
A. Obviously, an advantage for growers is the reduction of their energy bill. Moreover, they acquire greater social responsibility as growers by using a production method that is more environmentally friendly.
They also become more progressive growers by looking for innovative ways to improve the sector as a whole. Consumers benefit from the fact that the cost price is lower thanks to the energy saving.

Q. What is the attitude of growers in America and Mexico towards this form of production?
A. Not all American growers have embraced CHP, due to the lack of a financial incentive; I see a bigger trend in America towards biofuels, waste fuels and thermal energy.
In the case of Mexican growers, their energy bill is relatively low due to the fact they have better climate conditions, so it is not such a high priority for them. It makes more sense for them to capture the heat during the day and release it during the night.

Q. How do you foresee the future market for your products?
A. As companies get bigger, processes become more complex and people have to be more productive. We at Hoogendoorn are convinced that the future of horticulture involves more automation. Internet will become an important factor in the future, since it takes away the responsibility of having onsite software, which is always more difficult to control than our own web servers. Using the internet also eliminates a lot of hardware problems, because the grower will have less hardware, while we will have more. The hardware that the growers have should become easier, and easier hardware means that we require fewer specialists travelling about to keep the systems running. At Hoogendoorn we always say that an electrician or a general IT technician should be able to plug and play and keep the systems in the greenhouse running.

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Products and services supplied by Hoogendoorn America Inc.

Hoogendoorn America is a total solutions provider; together with its partners, the company supplies the entire infrastructure for a greenhouse. Hoogendoorn’s own product line is centred on the iSii climate computers, which automate energy management.

Energy management

The Hoogendoorn iSii climate computer makes it possible to control and monitor the energy services of a glasshouse operation, as well as to register and administer electricity purchases and sales. The Energy Management program ensures optimum coordination of heat and CO2 demand in the greenhouse and the supplies available from the boiler house or CHP installation.

Water management

Irrigation control is essential to crops. Sprinkler irrigation, ebb and flow installations and dripper systems can all be regulated using the Hoogendoorn iSii water management program. Hoogendoorn also has the solution for irrigating plants on movable systems in the greenhouse.

Plant monitoring with Letsgrow i4All

While the climate computer efficiently organises the climate, we still don’t know how the plants actually feel in the greenhouse. This is why Hoogendoorn has developed the i4All. The Letsgrow i4All is a mobile measuring frame, which comes with the following sensors installed: temperature meter, electronic RH and CO2 meter, PAR sensor and Plant Temperature Camera. The sensor measures how the plant is actually feeling in the greenhouse, and with this knowledge the climate in the greenhouse can be fine-tuned. For example, if the plant is stressed due to high temperatures or to high light intensity, the stomata close. When the stomata are closed, it does not make sense to give plants a lot of CO2, because there is no photosynthesis.

The same applies to fertiliser: if plants are stressed, they do not absorb fertiliser, so why make this investment? The Letsgrow i4All enables growers to make these decisions, because they know how the plants feel. A further advantage of the i4All is that it is mobile and therefore it can be sited anywhere in the greenhouse without cable problems. The i4All works wirelessly with Hoogendoorn’s web server via a GPRS connection, better known as mobile internet via a SIM card. A big plus of the Letsgrow website is that clients do not have to install software on their computer; it all runs from Hoogendoorn’s website, where the company can take care of maintenance, so this is a powerful and a very convenient solution.

Nomad human resources in the Greenhouse

Besides taking care of the plants, Hoogendoorn also takes care of people via Nomad, a unique recording system for wireless and paperless inputting, processing and presentation of all nursery data. With this recording system, growers can analyse yields, picking performance per employee, pests and diseases, fertiliser stocks, and gas and electricity consumption. This solution saves the grower a lot of time, and by analysing the Nomad data, it is possible to find areas where improvements can be made. If the Nomad systems are connected to Letsgrow, data can also be analysed with reference to the data of other production facilities, thereby enhancing the possibilities for making greater improvements and more extensive comparisons in the day-to-day management of a greenhouse.

Syngenta Seeds Vegetables Peppers Today – October 2009

Published by

Erik van Berkum

Erik is a Dutchman currently living in Osaka Japan.

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