IoT optimizes greenhouse horticulture


Partnering with horticultural specialists at Hortilux, First Consulting has developed a data-driven Internet of Things (IoT) application for a client in the greenhouse horticulture sector. The Hortisense application is geared to supply users with real-time insights into the performance of a greenhouse’s electronic infrastructure, as well as broader greenhouse analysis, enabling growers to adapt their strategies, and deliver optimal crops.

First Consulting has collaborated with Hortilux Schréder, a supplier of professional grow light systems for greenhouse horticulture, to set up a model to predict the expected fresh weight production of greenhouse crops. With the help of practical knowledge of expert gardeners, variables have been selected that influence the fresh weight production (kilograms of tomatoes or roses). Hortisense applies machine learning to create a forecasting model.

This scientific growth model calculates how much sugar (assimilate) produces a crop, based on input variables such as light, temperature and CO2. By combining sensor data from the growth light systems supplied by Hortilux with this physiological knowledge, useful input variables are created. Subsequently, machine learning algorithms can be applied that summarise crucial relationships between variables in a model. In addition to a prediction, the model also provides insight into the impact of these input variables on fresh weight production. 

In this way, horticulturalists are presented with a key insight into the status of greenhouse installations and lighting fittings, with regards to how they stimulate, or inhibit, the growth of produce. The forecasting model becomes more accurate by further use of Hortisense, by learning from newly available sensor and production data from the application. Plant cultivators can then adjust and optimise their greenhouse production according to the insights provided, creating the optimal growing conditions for crops.

With this scalable architecture and the forecasting model, future data research can be facilitated to develop new applications for market gardeners. Later this year, this will be leveraged by a new, environmentally friendly greenhouse, which will be opening for business at Ter Laak, in the Netherlands; one of the world’s largest growers of Phalaenopsis plants (moth orchids). The 5-hectare greenhouse will be warmed using solar energy, and will rely on a system of highly efficient LED grow lights.

Ter Laak employees will be able to get an at-a-glance view into lighting efficiency via Hortisense’s online portal, enabling them to switch off lighting when it’s not needed, thereby curbing energy consumption without impacting the eventual harvest. In the coming months, the completed Hortisense application will be exhibited at various fairs for greenhouse horticulture across the EU.

Commenting on the future of the project, Andre van Teeseling from First Consulting said, “Three years ago, this was just an idea. Hortilux knew what they wanted to achieve initially and shared this with us, but we recognized from the start this was the beginning of a journey. And we were right, because we are still learning and adapting Hortisense as we go along.”

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