Technology is rapidly advancing in the nursery stock industry, with the environment playing a crucial role. This includes aspects like energy generation, specialised machinery, and research into spraying techniques with a strong emphasis on reducing emissions. For this article we checked out several new innovations and asked participants of trade fair GrootGroenPlus about their vision and commitment to the development of new nursery technologies. Innovation in wind energy.

Wind energy has been on the rise for years, but its generation doesn’t always seem to work optimally. That’s why Cell Technologies from Zundert is introducing an innovative creation to the market: ‘The Blade.’ This innovative vertical-axis wind turbine promises to change the way we perceive wind energy and could become a staple in the world of clean energy generation. ‘The Blade’ is currently undergoing rigorous testing. The core of ‘The Blade’ lies in its revolutionary design. Unlike traditional horizontal-axis wind turbines,‘The Blade’ offers a compact form with a vertical axis, suitable for various environments. Due to its vertical orientation, the turbine can capture wind from any direction, making it highly efficient even under challenging conditions. The compact and ultramodern design not only maximizes energy generation but also opens up new possibilities for installation. Advanced aerodynamics result in consistent power generation at low wind speeds, providing a reliable and quiet energy source that adapts to the dynamic nature of wind patterns. François Huijbregts of Cell Technologies calls ‘The Blade’ “very suitable for both rural and urban applications. This means that this innovative wind turbine can be applied excellently in tree nurseries and aligns well with sustainability goals.”

Customization in machinery

Sustainable customization is becoming increasingly important in machinery as well. GGP.News  spoke with two participants specialised in this field. Schrauwen Machinebouw Zundert (SMZ) has been specialising in machinery for the nursery stock industry since 1967. Being a machine builder in close proximity was deemed highly practical by Zundert’s nursery stock producers, leading to specific requests for custom machines. Over the years, the company has developed a wide range of machines, from simple spraying wheelbarrows to cutting-edge harvesting machines delivered throughout Europe, America, and Canada. In 1992, Wilfried Schrauwen joined his father’s business and gradually took over its leadership. SMZ now offers a comprehensive range of machines, the result of close collaboration between the machine builder and nursery owners. From seeding machines, maintenance machines, and harvesting machines to packaging machines. Wilfried Schrauwen explains, “Growers come to us with a problem. We then look for a suitable solution and create the necessary technical drawings. In consultation with the grower, we determine what is technically feasible, leading to the final solution. We also focus on sustainability and aim for the optimal outcome for the customer. Parts are sourced from suppliers, and after sorting and preparation, the production process begins. This involves assembling, welding, and putting together our machines. Subsequently, the machine is delivered to the customer and, of course, commissioned.” Since January 2023, Schrauwen has also become the manufacturer of nursery machines that were previously made by Jacobs Constructie in Wernhout. Constant efforts are made towards new developments, showcased at the Technical Day on 27 June and in October at trade fair GrootGroenPlus. 

Innovation in hoeing technology

DvO Engineering from Maashees specializes in developing customized machines for agriculture, horticulture, and the nursery stock industry. A significant focus of the company is mechanical weed control between plants for the nursery stock industry. Daan Van Os, director of DvO, notes a significant increase in interest in their hoeing machines, as growers increasingly see the benefits of mechanical weed control. “Previously, we were only busy with it in spring and throughout the season, but now we are busy year-round. We respond to demand, and as a result, we have further developed our machines, for example, for hoeing around multi-stemmed trees. This is a different ballgame than neatly manoeuvring between rows of standard trees. Mechanical weed control undoubtedly has a future in the nursery stock industry. By combining old techniques with new innovations, we can provide tailored solutions for mechanical weed control. We also represent the French manufacturer Belhomme in the Netherlands. Their swivel hoeing system, with its highly sensitive and light feeler, is exceptionally suitable for mechanical weed control in tree nurseries.” Van Os continues, “We further specialise our machines, making them increasingly more compatible with the crop and growing conditions in the nursery, such as grass lanes, full-field cultivation, or around multi-stemmed trees. And with mechanical weed control, the devil is in the details. Our machines stand out for their very high capacity. We hoe at speeds of up to 15 km/h. Especially in a wet summer, like last year, capacity is crucial. The more you can hoe on that one good hoeing day in the week, the better. And this pays off for our customers. Even in a wet summer like last season, they manage to keep the nursery stock completely clean without herbicides. GGP participants Boomkwekerij Maarten van Overbeek, Boomkwekerij Mark van Genugten, Boomkwekerij Vullings, and Vlemminx Bomen are examples of this.”

Reducing emissions

Reducing emissions from plant protection products is also a high priority at Wageningen University & Research (WUR). This institute conducts research in the nursery stock and fruit cultivation industry. One on-going project focuses on reducing emissions of plant protection products through new, innovative application techniques. It may also lead to the use of less plant protection product, as these new techniques enable better and more uniform coverage of the crop. While initially designed for fruit cultivation, researcher Marcel Wenneker of WUR states that this could certainly be applicable to the nursery stock industry. However, further research is needed, as this industry is more diverse and structured differently than the fruit cultivation industry. This project involves a public-private partnership, aiming to develop new application techniques for fruit crops using crop-dependent spraying based on crop volume or crop row volume dosing. This should result in application techniques in the highest drift reduction class with an emission reduction of at least 95%. Thanks to these new techniques, emissions and exposure to bystanders and residents can be significantly reduced, while maintaining good biological effectiveness. Innovative spraying techniques like these can help preserve plant protection products for the industry.

Emission reduction of at least 95%

WUR has a clear goal: to develop application methods and calculation rules to achieve uniform coverage of the sprayed crop, depending on the application technique and crop stage, with an emission reduction of at least 95%. This involves quantifying adjustable spray technique parameters such as air support and variable spray volume on spray liquid distribution. It is also essential to quantify spray liquid distribution and develop practical calculation rules. Efficient emission-reducing application techniques for plant protection products have been proven to achieve 95% drift reduction. There are now calculation rules for crop-dependent dosages. Regarding tree cultivation, it is now up to machine manufacturers. The outcomes are validated based on field research, with protocols in place. This research can be conducted by WUR or any other recognized institution, with recognition granted by the government. The financing of research on drift reduction is the responsibility of machine manufacturers, while general technical research in this field is funded by the government, industry, and manufacturers.

Technical day on 27 June 2024

It is evident that there are many technological developments, not only visible on the exhibition grounds during the GrootGroenPlus trade fair. On Thursday, June 27, 2024, a special Technical Day will be organized. This is a project of Schoon Water (Clear Water). Schoon Water for Brabant is a special project of the province. The use of chemical pesticides has been significantly reduced in 11 areas where groundwater is extracted. Therefore, a similar approach has been decided for agriculture in the rest of Brabant.

Guest Location for Technical Day this year is Hergo Boomkwekerij BV at Waaijenbergstraat 21a in Zundert. They will also demonstrate a hoeing machine custom-made by Erwin Delcroix of Delcroix Techniek, capable of handling five beds with three rows on each bed. Styen Herijgers and Alysha Brand of Hergo recently joined the working group that organizes this Technical Day every year. Hergo specializes in the cultivation of woodland and hedge plants. The company covers 45 hectares of cultivation area. The core team consists of Styen Herijgers and his girlfriend Alysha Brand, and Peter and Karin Herijgers, Styen’s parents, are actively involved in the business. During the season, they can count on three seasonal workers, a number that increases to five in the fall. “We deliberately keep our assortment narrow,” says Styen. “We want to focus on a limited number of species and on hedge planting. This way, we achieve excellent quality.” Hergo is also committed to sustainable cultivation. Styen says, “We are MPS-A certified and aim to go even further. For weed control, we still spray, but we have managed to reduce this to only 10 per cent of what we used to do. We use a Low Volume System (LVS), meaning only half of the permitted dosage of the intended spray is needed. Hoeing is done mechanically with various machines for different plots to work as efficiently as possible. It is more labour-intensive. Whereas in the past, spraying three times a year with the tractor was sufficient, we now hoe 7 to 10 times a year, depending on the weather conditions.” For energy generation for the electric pumps, solar panels have been installed. “Throughout the year, we need a lot of water,” says Styen. “To achieve good water management, we removed our drainage system. Now, water can seep into the ground towards the groundwater instead of flowing into the ditch or sewer. If the groundwater level rises, we benefit from capillary action. I’ll give an example. We pump up 200 mm. Normally, there is about 800 mm of rain per year, but last year, it was only 600 mm. Those 200 millimetres we pumped up were precisely the missing millimetres we needed. Concerns about groundwater levels are not just an issue for us. As fellow businesses, we will have to work together to address this.”