Bulb crop saved from drought with smart data
Defining the best irrigation for optimum bulb quality and yield
When you think of the Netherlands, you think of tulips and windmills. That's one stereotype that isn't far from reality. When flying over the country in March and April, you'll see fields of purple, yellow, orange, and red - the bulb flowers that captivated this country for hundreds of years.
Growing bulbs in the Netherlands
Flower bulb exports is a significant driver for the Dutch economy, with flower exports averaging €6 billion in recent years.
Sensoterra partner Geert Steenhuis agricultural advisor at GMN, uses Sensoterra sensors to provide the best service to flower bulb growers across the Netherlands. Since 2017 GMN has offered Sensoterra sensors to support their service portfolio in crop development.
"Tulips are a tricky flower. With tulips, its difficult to find suitable soils for them to grow in."
Because of this, growers will often have multiple fields across an area, growing bulbs in properties which have the optimum soil conditions for growth. Those fields are often dissected by roads, farms or even towns that separate these properties. This means that growers can't be in all their fields at once, and must rely on smart data to provide them with the field insights they need to monitor their soil health.
"With the Sensoterra sensors, it's possible to understand each field's irrigation needs with completely remote data."
Geert Steenhuis, GMN
The Sensoterra sensors are a wireless IoT-based and remote system that provides growers with 24/7 insight into the soil moisture condition of their crops. With the use of Long Range Low Power (LoRa) radio communication, the probes can be placed anywhere within range of a LoRa gateway. In the Netherlands, KPN, the market leader in Dutch telecommunication, provides LoRa coverage across the country, allowing Sensoterra sensors to be placed and moved anywhere in the nation.
As an agronomist, Steenhuis' objective is to deliver high-quality bulbs, while at the same time increasing yield - and with a portfolio of over 50 growers, he can't be in all the fields at once. "The Sensoterra monitor app is very simple and easy to use. It provides me with the ability to see all my client's fields at once."
Steenhuis with Sensoterra probes, at the tulips field.
"The magic happens when the farmers see the readings in the app, go out to their fields and see the real need for irrigation. The sensors are helping them turn a gut feeling into a data-driven decision to irrigate,” said Steenhuis.
Challenges in the field
Bulb growers in the Netherlands typically use sprinkler irrigation or a haspel, an automated self-retracting watering reel, tapping into canal or groundwater reserves to irrigate. The majority of his customers use Sensoterra probes to indicate soil wetness or dryness.
“In these cases (multiple fields), farmers are able to note important factors that they probably wouldn’t have seen without the sensors. For example, farmers can see when the soil is drying up and when to start irrigating with the data from the Sensoterra app." This was especially important during the 2018 droughts experienced in the Netherlands.
“Last summer, the temperatures were very high and [the soils] very dry for the Netherlands,” said Steenhuis, with the 2018 summer being the warmest in the country in over 300 years.
“For instance, tulip farmers will normally irrigate once a week - many farmers thought this would be sufficient during the 2018 summer. However, the farmers using Sensoterra sensors realized that they needed to irrigate more frequently, every 3-4 days, in order to maintain crop quality during the drought." One farmer bought an additional haspel to keep up with the irrigation demands, saving his crop.
"With Sensoterra, farmers can see their soil's irrigation needs.
In the near future, of GMN intends to further enrich their crop knowledge and service expertise with the Sensoterra solution, focusing on data and system integration with the API.
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Download the complete case study on how Sensoterra helps bulb growers increase quality and yield below.
GMN is a leading company in the agricultural market who works with crop protection, fertilizers, seeds, and flower bulb distribution all over the Netherlands. Their mission is to attain a healthy balance between the combination of agricultural protection and arable farming expansion. Learn more at www.gmnbv.nl (Dutch).
Founded in 2014, Sensoterra (www.sensoterra.com) provides data-driven solutions for optimizing land and freshwater resources for agriculture, horticulture, landscaping and nature restoration.
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Caroline is a Soil Data Manager at Sensoterra. Previously, she worked as a laboratory analyst, responsible for data analysis of roots and soil, identifying pesticide contamination and plant accumulation. Her background is in Environmental Science, and she is currently obtaining her MS in Water, and Environment at Radboud University.Get in touch