Within the walls of TU Delft resides a lot of knowledge that horticulture and agriculture can benefit from. The recently established TU Delft AgTech Institute brings together supply and demand: it brings scientific knowledge into contact with challenges from practice, and seeks scientific answers to questions from (for example) entrepreneurs. “If you look around you from the tallest tower of TU Delft, you only see greenhouses.”
Last New Year’s Eve, the TU Delft AgTech Institute saw the light of day. “You could call it the front door of a number of TU Delft faculties with relevant knowledge in the field of agri-food and horti business. Themes on which TU Delft AgTech Institute focuses are Artificial Intelligence, Environmental Resources, Robotic Systems, Sensor Technology, Smart Systems and Sustainable Energy” says founder and Business Developer Liselotte de Vries, who runs the TU Delft AgTech Institute together with Scientific Director Roeland van Ham (professor at TU Delft and head of Bioinformatics at Keygene) and an Academic Board.
Why was the TU Delft AgTech Institute founded?
Liselotte de Vries: “We want to bring supply and demand together with the institute. By that I mean: using scientific knowledge in practice, and vice versa. The great thing is: if you look around you from the tallest tower of TU Delft, you only see greenhouses. From that physical proximity, collaboration is a logical step. Moreover, horticulture and agriculture are among the most important sectors in the world, and entrepreneurs and science can learn a lot from each other.”
Roeland van Ham: “The knowledge and expertise within TU Delft can help to answer all kinds of questions within the horticultural sector. You can think of fundamental knowledge about, for example, making food production more sustainable. In this way, TU Delft can help food production move forward.”
There are already mutual contacts?
De Vries: “That’s right. There are an enormous number of projects within TU Delft that are relevant, for example in the field of AI, energy and robotics. But these are often not visibly labeled as horticulture or agriculture and are communicated well enough outside TU Delft. At the same time, the sector is not familiar enough with TU Delft. While we have the technical and systems knowledge for worldwide challenges.”
Van Ham: “And let’s not forget: a team of researchers from TU Delft and a few suppliers took part in the Autonomous Greenhouse Challenge and won. So with technology such as Artificial Intelligence and sensors, they have beaten professional growers. That’s fantastic from a scientific point of view. And it means that the way we work can be improved even further by using new technologies.”
What are challenges you wish to take on?
Van Ham: “There are many issues within horticulture that are very interesting for TU Delft. For example: can you develop a thermometer that you put in a plant without damaging it? ”
De Vries: “TU Delft has high-tech knowledge for the challenges of the sector. This way I know for sure that sensors can become smaller, better and cheaper for micro-level measurements, and that we can ensure automation to take a big leap forward. Or take soft fruit for example: there is an enormous amount of wasted strawberries, because it is not well known how the chain can be set up as optimally as possible and because a lot of work is done manually supported by the human eye and not supported by objective monitoring tools and data.”
What does the scientific world actually think of horticulture?
De Vries: “First of all, the Dutch name ‘tuinbouw’ does not resonate internally, whereas ‘horticulture’ already appeals to the imagination of students and researchers much more. Students find this sector particularly important as it focuses on important topics such as feeding the world, feeding metropoles and growing local or high quality food. That appeals. So the story of horticulture is good.”
Van Ham: “Horticulture is still largely unknown within TU Delft. Our task is to show what knowledge there is within TU Delft and to ensure links between different knowledge areas. In addition, many challenges in agriculture and horticulture are comparable in terms of high-tech needs, we are happy to work with both sectors!”