The Next-Generation Growing (NGG) project ‘Accelerate!’ aims to boost the movement of growers towards Next-Generation Growing and to give them the expertise and skills to adapt their mind-set. The project is an initiative by the HAS lectureship New Cultivation Systems chaired by Jasper den Besten and is being funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and the Taskforce for Applied Research SIA. The project started in January 2020 and will continue until December 2021.
What exactly is Next-Generation Growing? Jasper explains: “NGG is a growing method based on new insights into greenhouse climate, combined with a new role for the grower. In the past, growing techniques mainly focussed on saving energy with a minimum of technical investment. NGG, on the other hand, takes the needs of the plant as its starting point. A well-balanced plant produces a more resilient, higher yielding crop. Not only does this require less energy, but also results in higher quality produce while reducing pesticide use.”
The idea of a well-balanced plant yielding better results isn’t new in itself. “Growers are already using plant balance, particularly to correct the result after the fact. The principles of NGG, however, use plant balances to strategically control the cultivation in advance and thus focus on prevention. By working smartly with screens, dehumidification, misting and CO2, we are able to both optimise the result and save energy.”
Despite a huge amount of expertise, technology and data, NGG hasn’t taken off as expected over the last 10 years. This project is focussed on accelerating NGG using education. After all, today’s student is tomorrow’s entrepreneur or consultant. “Students and their study programmes are the starting point for implementing NGG in practice. The intention of this project is to harness the added value of a learning environment combining the Intermediate and Higher Professional Education (MBO and HBO) networks and the Dutch ‘Greenhouse as a source of Energy’ programme,” explains Jasper.
Leo Oprel, senior policy officer for the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and involved in the Greenhouse as a Source of Energy programme, endorses this approach. “Sustainability is our greatest social responsibility. Next-Generation Growing breaks with tradition, opening the road to sustainable horticulture without fossil energy. The new generation will make it happen. The Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality sees education as having an indispensable role in forming and equipping this new generation for that future.”
A practice-oriented approach has been chosen, in which applications at practical training businesses are key. Students graduate at these businesses, supported by their lecturers and an independent team of experts, consisting of advisers and researchers from WUR, Letsgrow, Delphy, Zwaagdijk/WorldHortiCenter Research Area, Higher Agricultural Education/Intermediate Professional Education and InHolland Business Research Studies. “This also enables growers to continue implementing new steps in Next-Generation Growing in a responsible way in the future,” adds Jasper.
The knowledge from graduation projects will be shared within so-called ‘learning communities’ in various ways so that generic bottlenecks can also be identified. Raspberry grower Rob van Enckevort from Peelkroon is involved with the project as a practical training business. When we ask him why he is taking part, he answers, “As a sector, we have made great strides in energy saving and CO2 reduction, but we can undoubtedly do more. More knowledge allows us to make better use of the opportunities to achieve energy savings and CO2 reduction, and to see what other new options we can implement. I have confidence in this collaboration between Greenhouse as a Source of Energy and education. This is not just an investment in today’s knowledge, but also in the people who will strengthen the sector in the future.”
Due to the unique project structure, practice-oriented research led by Universities of Applied Sciences (HBO) is being developed in collaboration with Intermediate Professional Education (MBO). At the same time, we are therefore establishing a network of Intermediate and Higher Professional Education students and institutions. The knowledge gained can be broadly incorporated in the curricula of the educational institutions involved, in Greenhouse as a Source of Energy’s courses and in the activities of the CIV T&U (Centre for Innovative Professionalism - Horticulture & Propagation Materials).
Jasper continues, “Due to the introduction of flexible and adaptive education at HAS, we now have the opportunity to approach things in a fundamentally different way. A practical situation triggers students to search for relevant theory, so why not take this as the starting point? It becomes instantly clear how important the theory is.”
The consortium partners for NGG: Accelerate! are the four Dutch agricultural universities of applied sciences (HAS, InHolland, Aeres and Van Hall Larenstein), the CIV T&U (Centre for Innovative Professionalism - Horticulture & Propagation Materials), knowledge institutes Wageningen UR and Delphy, Greenhouse as a Source of Energy, Letsgrow.com, Zwaagdijk/WorldHortiCenter Research Area, trade associations, suppliers and greenhouse horticulture businesses.