The Digital Grower is the Future
TASPO, Germany’s leading trade journal for commercial horticulture, conducted an interview with our Managing Director Moritz Böcking. The focus was on the question of what role digitization will play in the future of horticulture.
TASPO: Klasmann-Deilmann is a leading producer of growing media. It’s unexpected that your company is now making a strong case for digitization in horticulture.
Moritz Böcking: We remain a substrate producer and are first and foremost standing up for our customers. But the fact is that if you want to stand up for your customers today, you also have to deal with the digitization of your business processes. Digitization is effectively on the agenda in all industries worldwide, and it is only a matter of a few years before production, trade, logistics and services are comprehensively digitized worldwide. Commercial horticulture will also follow this path. Of course, substrates and plants will remain a primarily analog business, but digital solutions will increasingly shape our industry. We follow developments in international horticulture and see what is happening everywhere. It was a logical decision with us to move forward with digital horticulture.
TASPO: What are these developments?
Moritz Böcking: The world’s population is growing, and with it the demand for healthy food and ornamental plants. However, since the land needed for cultivation is not increasing, yields must be increased on existing land. Our growing media make a major contribution to this. In the same context, the demands placed on nurseries are also steadily increasing. They have to increase their output and efficiency. They are becoming larger, more complex and often spread over several sites. We know that there is a shortage of qualified technical personnel, which means that more and more responsibility is concentrated on very few people. It is foreseeable that horticultural businesses will have to be managed even more like industrial companies in the future – strongly networked with their customers and their suppliers. And that won’t work without digital solutions. Digitization will soon no longer be a competitive advantage, but a fundamental prerequisite for their own success.
TASPO: Your answer to this development is the digital platform Log & Solve, which Klasmann-Deilmann is developing specifically for users in commercial horticulture. What is this application all about?
Moritz Böcking: Log & Solve is an online platform that currently focuses on monitoring horticultural processes. Cultivation parameters are recorded, observed, evaluated and supplemented by the user’s own notes and visual material. For example, nutrient content and substrate moisture can be continuously documented and automated status reports can be generated about the respective crop. The digital culture logbooks visualize the measurement data – also in combination with further information. In this way, they allow a broad overview of the ongoing processes and comparison with previous or parallel planting sets. Upcoming crops can be planned in detail with Log & Solve. Based on the collected data, the nursery can prevent undesirable developments. Any deficiencies that do occur can be detected at an early stage and consequences averted. In the event of critical values, warning messages are triggered by e-mail or SMS. In this way, the farm keeps an eye on the success of its own crop management and can readjust if necessary – regardless of whether the greenhouse in question is right next door or far away in another country. The data and evaluations can be shared with the team, for example on smartphones or tablets. In addition, further conclusions can be derived to improve operational processes. In addition, we offer consulting based on all the data, i.e., consulting on culture management in day-to-day operations. This is what our customers know and particularly appreciate: the personal exchange on topics that are currently on the agenda in the company. Face-to-face discussions will continue to take place in the future. But they will be based on much better data. We will also become more flexible. When things are urgent, our experts will also be available online as consultants.”
TASPO: Nevertheless, why of all things does a substrate manufacturer need to add digital solutions to its core business?
Moritz Böcking: We saw the need, we had the ideas, and we have the right experts. A whole range of our IT solutions simplify the processes between the nursery and the substrate manufacturer, they bring additional benefits to the parties involved. Substrates can be ordered online with just a few clicks, and delivery is accompanied by a tracking tool – that’s already part of the standard these days. At Log & Solve, horticultural engineers and IT specialists work together with horticultural companies on an interdisciplinary basis to continuously develop the platform. In the meantime, we have reached the point where the use of artificial intelligence will soon be worthwhile. To answer your question: It doesn’t have to be the substrate manufacturer who provides the digitization. But we, too, are a company that is in the transition from the analog to the digital age and is working flat out on IT solutions. The potential for our customers is obvious. That’s why we want to walk this path together and make progress together. The earlier and more closely we work together, the better digitization in horticulture will succeed.
TASPO: Where do you see the digital future of horticulture?
Moritz Böcking: We reckon that there will no longer be enough experienced growers and skilled workers in this country and internationally even in the medium term – and that’s a shame. There is a threat of losing skills that are essential for a successful nursery. If there is to continue to be commercial horticulture that safely provides us with healthy food as well as ornamental and nursery plants, then we need to transfer horticultural know-how into bits & bytes. We assume that in the not too distant future, horticultural operations can be controlled digitally with a high degree of automation – largely independent of the know-how of the respective operator and with very few personnel. The “digital grower” is coming, and that’s why we’re developing Log & Solve.