Vision Robotics Agri-tech leading the way within NXTGEN Hightech

Agri-tech leading the way within NXTGEN Hightech

29 October 2023

NXTGEN Hightech was officially launched last spring. With the support of the National Growth Fund, over 330 Dutch knowledge institutions, start-ups, scale-ups and (SME) companies will collaborate on new high-tech machines and production technologies.

Erik Pekkeriet from WUR was pleased but not surprised that the top sector of HTSM, or High-Tech Systems and Materials, was paying attention to the growing role of high-tech within agri-food. This is in fact one of the six priority areas of the development programme, alongside biomedical production technology, energy, composite, laser satellite communication and semiconductors. “Within HTSM, they don’t do agri-food. They looked at the money-spinners in our country, those things we really lead the way in, and yes, they soon landed on agri-food too. This is so important for our country and really does belong within the Dutch high-tech industry.”

From potato harvesters to milking robots

It stands to reason. Picture this: the Netherlands leads the world in (greenhouse) horticulture, says Pekkeriet. When it comes to sorting machines for fruit and vegetables, look no further than the Netherlands. For potato harvesters and sorting machines, it’s the Netherlands again. 90% of all the world’s mushroom farms bear a Dutch technology stamp. In the area of meat processing, he mentions Marel, which, although it has an Icelandic owner, has based most of the R&D and manufacturing of its machines in the Netherlands. And then you also have Lely’s milking and feeding robots, and Trioliet’s and Sieplo’s pre-mixers, for the whole world too. “All relatively small companies, not really in the sights of HTSM until recently.”

Tech side growing within agriculture

Naturally, within HTSM, they have been closely following breeding techniques within greenhouse horticulture. But within agriculture, you still see a lot of manual labour and low-tech, especially in horticulture and dairy farms. That has changed a lot in the last decade. “I think the milking robots were a kind of breakthrough, after which people thought, hey, what is actually happening there within agriculture.” It’s great that agri-tech is now getting attention in its entirety, as it has grown considerably in recent years due to a strong production sector, says Pekkeriet. “Where the production sector is under pressure, with shrinkage in greenhouse horticulture, reduction in livestock numbers and rising land taxes, you see the tech side within agri-food growing significantly.”

Two key technologies

Over the next seven years, hundreds of people within six core domains will be working hard on smart solutions. Across those domains, two key technologies, namely systems engineering and smart industry, will play a crucial role. Pekkeriet: “Within the agri-food domain, we will be looking at new applications of sensor technology and robotics using smart solutions so that food production can benefit even more from growing robotisation and automation. This is necessary because of ever-decreasing manpower.”

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy is responsible for the project, which consists of 17 major projects and one overarching project, the ecosystem project, of which WUR is the architect together with FME, the Dutch employers’ organisation for the technology industry. More information: www.nxtgenhightech.nl

Erik Pekkeriet Vision Robotics

ing. EJ (Erik) Pekkeriet

Programme Manager Agro Food Robotics

Contact ing. EJ (Erik) Pekkeriet