Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Anthurium plantation in the world's biggest flower export country

I used to wonder what are those big patches of land around some small towns in the Netherlands. Like this image on the right which I cut from a screen print of a google map of the Westland area. They look like big factories, different from the green grass land. There are so many of them... Now I know, they are huge green houses: they are the plantation for all sorts of flowers, vegetables, all year round. They create the best possible man-made environment for the growth of these vegetations - a mass production factory at an amazing scale. Following the previous post about the flower auction, I will write about the flower plantation in some greenhouses like these. The one we visited is called Rijnplant.

Basically, flowers auctioned include two kinds of flowers: cut flowers and pot flowers. This factory I visited is specialized in one special kind of Anthurium, mostly in pots. The picture on the right shows you the scale of flower plantation, it covers several hectares. The whole plantation is so much controlled that you will have to be surprised by its careful management, and advanced technology.

Entering the plantation greenhouse, we were asked to wear a cover on our shoes - because our feet might bringing in some bacteria into the field. (It was not the most strict, since later when we visited a tomato plantation and packaging factory, a full covered clothes and hat were required.) All flowers are spread out on the ground, evenly distributed to get enough light from the top. There are sophisticated equipment developed to measure the interior environment, tempreture, moisture, lighting, tempreture on the leaves surface. Intensive researches have found out the perfect environment for the growing of Anthurium. So the continuous monitoring, data collected every 15 minutes and sent to a control center through internet, will inform the instant adjustment decisions. Remote control across countries is also possible. Rijnplant has collaborated with Wagningen University and a private technology firm to develop this sophisticated monitoring system. Their investment on technology is currently paid off - since the sales of this monitoring machine is also bringing back a good revenue for their business.

The breeding of this Anthurium is also an interesting story. They used to use the seeds from the flower to grow new plant. It is not perfect since the next generation anthurium might bring in some different color flowers. Now they are using the colon technology. All anthurium flowers are breed from a cut piece of leaf. In some special lab, leaves are cut into small piece, and each piece will grow into a small plant. This way, the new generation can be guaranteed to be identical to the plant leaf that produced them. Amazing!

What is the most unbelievable, is the sorting process after flowers are ready to go to the market. Some flower buyers have certain criteria for the flowers they want to buy, something like the minimum breadth and height of the plant, minimum number of flowers in each pot. It used to be a job of human beings, very tedious. Now they developed a WPS sorting system. All pots are put in a blue color holder. Underneath the holder, there is a computer chip, which gives this pot an identity. After putting into the holder, all pots will go through a camera room, where a top view and a side view picture will be taken, and some data will be calculated. As a result, the characteristics of each flower pot are recorded. After the camera room, all flowers pots are lined up on tracks. They first waited in rows of tracks. Later these pots are literaly walking and being directed to different directions according to the different chracteristics. At the junction, the machine can recognize according to the chip under the holder, whether this pot is qualified or not. Then it will decide whether to push this pot aside, or let it keep going... ... Because of the adoption of this system, the labor on this sorting process reduced from 60 persons to 30 persons.

There are too many interesting things about growing these flowers. The heating systems spread all over the green house. In the gloomy winter when sun light is not sufficient, artificial lights will turn on. I got to know that roses need the light the most, and we saw several glowing greenhouse in that afternoon when sky turned cloudy. The ground of the green house is not even, and where the pots stay are a few centimeters low. Water mixed with necessary nutrition is directed and filled in this sunken locations. The water was then sucked up into the pots. There are certain equipment monitoring the insects population in the greenhouse, indicating the time for action.

The profit of the greenhouse is not necessary from growing flowers. Most of them get a big part of profit from generating electricity and feeding back into the national grid. The green house itself always has its own generator, burning gas to supply all necessary energy. However, when the interior need is less than what it can generate, the government would buy back the extra electricity to the national grid at a pretty good price. So there were stories like one tomato grower's last year's profit includes a bigger share from selling the electricity than selling tomato. To some extent this is a big subsidy these green house growers are benefiting from.

It is getting too long, and I still feel there are more to share... ... until the next post then.

1 comment:

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