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Automatic nutrient measurement is ready for practice

  • Posted by: admin
  • Category: News
  • Publisher: GroentenNieuws.nl
  • Thijmen Tiersma

Tholen – The first four measuring systems to automatically measure nutrients will be installed at Dutch growers this spring. This means that CE-Line is on the eve of the real practical introduction of its measuring equipment. Growers can use it to fertilize much more accurately. Precision fertilization.

“With our launching customers, we are now going to discover how the system and the nutrient data will be applied in practice,” Wilco Dijkstra (CTO) on behalf of the Heerenveen-based company is already looking ahead a bit further after a final year of test runs in a tomato grower’s greenhouse. CE-Line’s equipment is able to constantly measure the ten macronutrients requested by growers. “The most important lesson from the test years is that we can measure nutrients very accurately and quickly.”

Micronutrients are the next step. “Measuring micronutrients in the same way did not seem realistic to us for a long time, but we have seen during testing with growers that it will really be a must for growers in the future. We can already measure micronutrients in our lab. Measuring growers will therefore become realistic next year.”

The first installation, at Gitzels . 10 millimeters of water is required per measurement. The water comes from the filter system that CE-Line supplies with the measuring equipment. “The grower is sometimes surprised and wonders what the purpose of that large cupboard is if so little water passes through it. This is because the temperature in the cabinet must be stable. There is a cooling unit in it. In addition, a waste water facility has also been added, so that the measuring cabinet itself drains the used water.”

Precision fertilization

But first let’s take a step back. Since the Frisian company’s first steps in horticulture in 2019, including participation in GreenTech in Amsterdam, the necessary tests have followed. First at Wageningen University & Research and then at Royal Pride in 2021 and tomato grower Lijntje in 2022. What is striking is that the tests were all done in greenhouse vegetables.

“Because a fruit vegetable crop continues to produce fruit, the feedback from the sector prior to its introduction was that our system offered the most added value there. In ornamental horticulture, there is often a crop that works towards a single flowering moment. However, we are also seeing more and more development towards precision fertilization here. Ultimately, we are also focusing explicitly on the entire horticultural sector, including vertical and indoor farming. As soon as water with nutrients is supplied to plants in a somewhat automated manner, our equipment will come in handy.”

Wilco Dijkstra at GreenTech Amsterdam 2019

Screen in the water space?
Not necessarily necessary

In addition to the discovery that measuring micronutrients at the grower’s location is closer than expected, CE-Line also came to the conclusion during the practical tests that the systems must be able to run standalone, without a computer. “The calculations can be done in the cloud. The nutrient data is available there. We can present the data to the grower or it will be available to the grower in the form of a printout or report, as is already the case when growers have measurements taken elsewhere.”

We notice that the grower is not necessarily waiting for the data in the water space.


Reading data from the climate computer or other data collecting systems is also possible. “This is becoming increasingly realistic for larger growers,” Wilco notes. Providing a screen with the system yourself is not necessary, although it is possible. “We notice that the grower is not necessarily waiting for the data in the water space. Reading data on a computer screen or on a telephone from a distance is fine, as we have learned from tests with growers.” Colleague Simon Meijer (CEO) adds, “It is important to realize that the grower is the owner of the data and therefore has a decisive influence.”


Specific reagents

The prototype used for testing in recent years was still custom-made. Now that the time has come for the first serial production, CE-Line is focusing on a generic measuring system. “What still remains customization are the reagents that are in the system and keep the system operational. This is slightly different for every grower. Every water is slightly different, even for growers who both grow tomatoes, for example, there are differences in the water.”

The Frisian company focuses on plug & play systems that can in principle be installed by ‘any home installer of the grower’. “It is important that there is an internet connection, electricity and a good water connection. It is essential for our measurements that clean water enters our system. That is why we supply a filter system with the unit.”

A CE-Line specialist then configures the system together with the grower. “We also look together with the grower at where exactly you want to measure. Basically this is with your waste drain and with your gift. Then you know what you get and what goes back to the plants.”

Simon and Wilco during placement of the first system

Measuring frequency

As mentioned, measuring micronutrients is the next step. The wishes of the growers who purchase the first series-produced systems are being investigated. “You may wonder whether growers are already waiting for hourly insight into micronutrients. We can measure at a very high frequency, but flooding the grower with data is not the intention.”

At one of the test locations, measuring macronutrients every hour day and night was investigated in recent years. That was technically fine, but the grower couldn’t really do anything with it. “The grower eventually asked us for a daily average. It was already a few years ago. Growers have now gone one step further. Next year we will see what exactly growers need for data on micronutrients.”

The current systems have already been made suitable for measuring micronutrients. “You need different reagents to measure micronutrients, but apart from that we have already technically pre-sorted them. For example, space has already been made on the visualization side for displaying the six micronutrients.”


Behavioural change

With the CE-Line system, autonomous fertilisation is coming closer, but are growers already doing it? “No, in our opinion partly”, Simon and Wilco indicate. “There is interest, also from suppliers of systems for autonomous cultivation. They contact us for information about nutrients.” Together with growers and other technical parties, Wilco sees it happening in the future. “Growers who work with liquid fertilisers and already have automatic container fillers, already have the necessary technical resources for this step.”

The grower’s behavior will also change, he notes. “One of the growers we tested with started making adjustments to his fertilizer recipes for his AB containers three times a week instead of once a week. To this end, it has adjusted the AB bin volumes. If the bins are empty more quickly, you can switch more quickly as a grower.”

Wilco wants to say that with the advancement of new techniques, growers are also working differently. “The trend used to be to make large, fairly cumbersome systems and above all to ensure that there was always enough water. Now you see precision fertilization emerging, also in outdoor cultivation. Growers work with smaller volumes. A manure injection unit works fastest for growers, but acceleration and more flexibility are also possible for growers who work with AB containers, if the grower wants and dares.”

[ Translated by Google Translate ]
Author: admin