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The Future of Vertical Farming: A Conversation with Rudy Van den Berg of Artechno Growsystems

A Deep Dive into Genomic Technologies, Automated Solutions, and Big Data's Role in Revolutionizing Vertical Farming.

Vertical farming is a rapidly growing industry that seeks to provide eco-friendly and locally-grown produce while reducing conventional agriculture's environmental impact. The European Commission has recently approved certain advanced genomic technologies, which could help speed up breeding programs tailored to the specific conditions of vertical farming. Rudy Van den Berg, the Commercial Manager at Artechno Growsystems, provides insightful commentary on how this breakthrough could transform the vertical farming industry.

Company Background: Artechno Growsystems' Journey

Artechno Growsystems specializes in automated vertical farming solutions, particularly in hydroponic cultivation systems. Founded in the late 1980s by Art van Rijn, the Artechno aims to revolutionize the stagnant field of horticulture by thinking creatively and innovatively. Over the years, Artechno has diversified its expertise into various fields, such as water purification, automation, robotics, and processing. After establishing the Artechno Group, the company re-focused its Growsystems division to specialize in turn-key automated vertical farming and deep flow technique systems. The company aims to become the leading global supplier of automated vertical farming technology, aiming to grow the perfect plant.

Challenges in Crop Breeding for Vertical Farming

Van den Berg acknowledged that the professional breeding of vegetable crops suited for vertical farming is still in its infancy. The key lies in adjusting the plant architecture to fit multilayer cultivation, especially for crops like tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, and eggplants. "Breeding companies hold the key to developing new types of planting models for these crops, allowing them to be grown profitably in Automated Vertical Farms," said Van den Berg.

The Potential for Crop Variety in Vertical Farming

When asked about the potential for vertical farming to accelerate new crop varieties, Van den Berg pointed to significant differences among existing varieties, especially in crops like arugula. "By necessity, we work with varieties developed for open fields or the greenhouse. But there is still so much to gain," he added. Artechno Growsystems collaborates closely with breeding companies and customers, fostering a knowledge exchange crucial for innovation. Artechno Growsystems' AVF+ technology can grow a wide range of crops. "We have the commercial solution ready for lettuce, leafy greens, herbs, microgreens, and young plants." Research is ongoing for other crops like strawberries, tomatoes, and peppers, which present challenges in scaling up profitably in vertical farms.

The Role of Big Data and Data Security

Van den Berg emphasized the importance of big data in controlled environment agriculture for optimizing processes and cultivation recipes. However, he also warns that data security is crucial, especially with speculations of cheaper software potentially compromising data to unauthorized entities. Van den Berg noted that data alone is insufficient for successfully operating an automated vertical farming factory; it must be integrated with other elements like software. He suggested that while growers are generally aware of the importance of data, the key lies in knowing how to use and secure it effectively.

Future Outlook: Human Expertise and Data Analytics

Rudy Van den Berg envisions a future where vertical farming is accessible anywhere and closely linked to the market. While his company's cultivation processes are virtually automatic, he believes there will always be a need for human expertise, such as agronomists and operators, for continuous improvement. He sees big data as playing a significant role in this vision, as it provides a reliable source for analysis and system development. Van den Berg predicts combining data analytics and human creativity will mainstream mass production in vertical farms.

Conclusion: The Transformative Potential of Vertical Farming

Vertical farming offers hope as the world grapples with climate change and food security challenges. The recent nod from the European Commission to authorize New Genomic Technologies may be the catalyst for breeding crops better suited for vertical farming conditions. Rudy Van den Berg's insights illuminate the path forward, blending technology, big data, and human creativity to unlock the full potential of vertical farming.

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