High-tech farming helps
to feed the world

The earth’s population is expected to reach 10 billion people in the year 2050. One of the biggest challenges is to provide sufficient food in a sustainable and efficient way. GROW! explores advanced sensor technology that significantly boosts indoor farming crop yield.

GROW! is an Interreg project for the border region of The Netherlands and Belgium, in which Holst Centre teamed up with different partners including HAS and the University of Antwerp to make greenhouse farming more efficient. With the right types of sensors and plant models, plant diseases can be nipped in the bud and abiotic stress can be measured and prevented. This is done, among other things, by regulating climate, light and nutrients. Ion-selective sensors were developed in the project that are specifically suitable for horticulture. The ion-selective sensors provide measurements of pH, conductivity and specific nutrients in water. This makes it possible to measure which nutrients are absorbed by plants. In addition, climatic sensors measure temperature, humidity and light intensities, among other things.

Printed electronics is key

Horticulture sensors for this project must be compact, robust, preferably inexpensive, and use little power. This is where the printed electronics technology of TNO at Holst Centre excels. As printing allows you to cover large areas in greenhouses and vertical gardens, sensors can be rolled out like LED-strips ensuring easy distribution. Having sensors all over the greenhouse generates large amounts of data. Based on smart algorithms and artificial intelligence, the observed patterns provide valuable insights into the crops’ growth and nutrient intake.

In addition, printed sensors provide a cheap and disposable solution for nutrient measurements. In this way growers can easily run tests to explore effective ways to optimise crop yield. The knowledge and sensor modalities from GROW! will be taken to the next level in imec’s OnePlanet programme, which is aimed at optimising the plants physiology using direct sensory feedback.