Precise control over irrigation raspberries

A big challenge when growing raspberries is determining the right way of irrigation. Determining the right moments to water is important, but often happens on a hunch. Nowadays irrigation can be monitored and optimised with substrate sensors from Growficient. Grower Bart Mensen from Verpaalen Soft Fruit and soft fruit consultant Ad Hurks will tell us more about this.

Challenges when growing raspberries

According to Ad Hurks, a good raspberry cultivation starts with a good irrigation system and outlet water, as well as a well-buffered substrate, pots with sufficient drainage capacity and high-quality plants. Ad is a consultant in all types of soft fruit in the soft fruit industry and is active in the sector worldwide. According to him, irrigation is very important in raspberry cultivation. An example would be making sure the crop is generative. One way of doing this is through creating water stress. “But it all happens on intuition. And if that doesn’t work, the plants remain vegetative, and you have to harvest later. Having a tool to monitor this most definitely helps”, according to Ad. “There are a number of things in cultivation that have to do with irrigation”. Moreover, according to Ad a solid fertilization schedule is also essential. He also emphasizes that irrigation makes up an important part of the ‘total game’ and that there are many factors that influence the way in which water should be given. 

Growficient is a good tool to monitor if the crop is generative.

Ad Hurks

According to Ad, having a good tool to monitor is therefore important, but he also mentions that this often happens based on intuition. “Before the night the pot needs to lose its water and, in the morning, you will have to start again at the moment the plant starts taking up water again”. This moment is often still determined based on intuition. Ad adds: “This way you immediately check if you did it right the day before. If it is too wet after the night, you will have to start later.” Inspection thus takes place afterwards. 

Bart Mensen, raspberry cultivation manager at Verpaalen Soft Fruit, confirms this. They cultivate long canes and root blocks on 26 hectares. He agrees with Ad that it is important to start and stop watering at the right moment: “and to make sure that it is not too wet overnight, that way you keep the roots in a good condition”. Bart states that he mostly checks in the morning. “If I notice then that they are too wet, then I quit too late the day before and the other way around means I stopped too early. I should have continued longer or stopped earlier”. This is done on intuition and is only done after the fact. He also mentions: “In the past, there were times where I was surprised by the wind, especially at night. You get quite a shock in the morning” Bart states. “But you do learn how to respond to it”

Advantages 

Bart, therefore, indicates that they can gain a lot by starting at the right time in the morning based on the insights. Another advantage for him is having more certainty. “It gives you a bit of peace of mind.” Ad agrees: “For example, on Sundays people sometimes have something else to do. It provides some reassurance.” It also sometimes saves Bart time: “Of course you still make your rounds, but on a Sunday or when it’s busy, I check the dashboard and if I don’t see anything crazy, I can postpone it for a while. In the future, if you can create a baseline, it could mean that I have to drive less during the week”.

When you over water, it will create problems. The sensors definitely help avoiding this.

Bart Mensen

Having a dashboard also offers other advantages. “The great advantage of having a dashboard is that multiple people can see it, even remotely,” says Ad. “It was the same with Bart in the beginning, we could both keep an eye on it and if I saw something, I called him.” According to Ad, helping foreign growers is also easier. He can help them much better without having to go there. “With a number of Growficient sensors, a good fertilization scheme and timely irrigation, drain and leaf analyses together with photos, I can support growers all over the world through online meetings.” He also finds Growficient very useful for companies with multiple growers: “The moment you can visualize what you mean by using the dashboard, you can more easily speak about it, reflect and benefit from each other’s qualities. For example, you can look back a week to see what has been done in relation to the weather, and how this can be done better in the future.” Learning from the data is therefore an important aspect, Bart acknowledges. He indicates: “If you were too late with watering once, you can look back and see what happened afterwards, because apparently there was something that kept the plant active.”

The insights from the dashboard thus form a basis from which you can learn. Ad and Bart also believe that it can help reduce the disease rate, especially root diseases such as pythium, phytophthora and verticillium”. “When you over water, it will create problems”, Ad states. “In order to avoid this, the sensors definitely help”, Bart agrees.

Connecting the climate computer

Growficient is currently busy linking the system to the climate computer. In this way, the first steps are taken towards the ultimate goal: autonomous watering. Ad believes that autonomous cultivation and watering are becoming increasingly more current. “But I think that it is only possible with direct measurements of the substrate,” he states about autonomous watering. He indicates that you can, for example, also control radiation, but that this does not yet take into account the direct situation of the substrate.

 “Everything that we can automate in a good way, in which processes go better and easier, is something that everyone wants,” Ad states. He does think that human control and having green thumbs remain indispensable. Bart also indicates that linking it to the climate computer would be a great scenario and he believes there is a future in it. “It would be really nice if this could work. But for this, trust in the system is important.” Growficient is currently working on the realisation of these connections at Van den Elzen Plants and Thwan van Gennip, among others, in order to jointly take the first steps towards autonomous irrigation.

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Would you like to know more about the benefits of Growficient? Let us know. Together we can look at the possibilities f or you to gain more insight into the root environment and to optimize watering. 

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