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“Making the best models available to every grower”

With lots of ideas and knowledge of crop planning in Excel, Wim van Wingerden of ProJoules came across Ignition Computing a few years ago. It was Loek van Leeuwen, with whom he was already working, who showed him the way to the Dutch tech city Eindhoven. Two years later, the result is impressive: a model-driven crop planning platform for fruit vegetables that allows growers to gain new insights and achieve better crop results.

“For us, it is important that growers start learning about the optimal plant balance,” says Wim. To make that possible, ProJoules chooses to offer growers a system that is “easy to manage.” “Our goal is to help growers make better decisions about their crops by letting them learn from the data and from sensory findings.”

‘Red cloud’
At the market launch of ProJoules, Wim, Loek, and the guys from Ignition Computing already took a picture together. At that time, they had already completed quite a development process together. The step from a model in Excel to a web application had to be made. This made it more possible. By no means have all the available possibilities have already been exploited for a good reason. Development is done step by step. Not everything can be done at once. “I’m not an IT guy,” says Wim. “Loek is much more so. He guards the line, keeps structure, knows what seems easy but is difficult and vice versa, and helps prioritize.”

Loek is the son of a grower and has growing knowledge as well as IT knowledge. He knows a lot about artificial intelligence, systems, and control engineering and doesn’t shy away from a bit of physics, either. At ProJoules, he is given the space to contribute his own ideas. Asked for an example, he comes up with “the red cloud.” It is what Wim and Loek mutually call the graphic display within the crop planning platform in which the grower can easily see that there is a surplus of Joules.

“Before, that red area wasn’t there. It meant you didn’t always notice that there was a surplus. Now you do.” It’s a seemingly simple adjustment. “But one that makes a lot clear and can make the grower think.” Or to action. For example, about coating the greenhouse. Growers using ProJoules shared such insights before.

The ‘red cloud.’ 

Preview
The ideas of the ProJoules team are turned into workable software by Ignition Computing. Founder Daan van Vugt describes the company as “consulting for software with an edge of physics.” The assignment for ProJoules is “a great job.” “In this case, to do the conversion from Excel to online properly, you also have to have a good understanding of the underlying processes behind the figures. Otherwise, you can’t build good models.”

Horticultural knowledge was still lacking in Eindhoven, but that proved no problem. Mike Sanders, software engineer: “We get the broad outlines of cultivation. That’s also what ProJoules is primarily intended for. It’s a physical model, but one that doesn’t want to take control from the grower. That is why it is sometimes actually convenient that we don’t know everything about cultivation.” Daan nods. “Maybe it avoids just that bit of information having to be spelled out.”

Wim recalls that it was once suggested by Eindhoven that if there is a lack of light, the lighting should be changed to 22 hours. Loek laughs: “Not everything that can be done with numbers can also be done in cultivation practice. But it’s precisely these different ways of looking at things that make our cooperation strong.”


Mike and Daan from Ignition Computing and Wim and Loek from ProJoules

Variety profiles and RTR
One new development in which ProJoules and Ignition Computing are working together does involve pre-filling certain data. It should certainly get new users started and prevent them from being put off by ‘a blank screen’. The crop planning platform requires growers to input crop data on a regular basis. Some data is known in advance and can be entered by the creators themselves prior to cultivation. “We are also working on the integration of variety profiles,” Loek indicates. “This will make it easier to set up a crop.” With the safety of virtually seeing what happens when parameters change. With the change of a few numbers, a precious crop is not immediately lost. “Our model makes it possible to make a plan for cultivation at the beginning of the season,” says Wim. “Safely from behind the computer.”

In Eindhoven, they are also looking forward to enabling the program to do more of its own calculations as well. “There are many more models you can use. We want to start incorporating those step by step.” Integration of RTR, radiation-temperature ratio, is at the forefront of the feature list. “With that, we already input temperature through the year in advance,” Wim explains. “That way, you can better determine stem density in advance and also link outgrowth duration to temperature more easily.”


The focus at ProJoules is on fruiting vegetables

Webinar
Again with the aim of helping the grower get started. Not spelling everything out. Loek: “For new growers, working with ProJoules might be a bit intimidating at first. With new features, we want to help those growers.” Existing growers, who have already been growing with ProJoules for a year, don’t really need that pre-filled information anymore, Wim notices. “They are making cultivation plans perfectly well themselves. That’s exactly the intention.”

But can’t artificial intelligence make such plans too? Possibly. However, Wim and Loek don’t want to replace growers but strengthen them. “With ProJoules, it becomes possible as a grower to no longer just convey a feeling, but really a plan.” In this way, the crop planning platform is also a communication tool. For this, however, it is important that the grower also understands what the model does. “The step to autonomous cultivation still seems very big to us, therefore, for many,” he says.

This article has been written by Hortidaily and republished on projoules.com