Meet the consultants

René Beerkens

Welcome to our ‘Meet the Consultants’ series! As we highlighted in our previous series, at Plant Empowerment, our greatest asset is our dedicated team. Now it’s time to give the floor to our beloved consultants from our partners and members. Everyday they are working on the front lines, educating growers about the Plant Empowerment principles.

Today we put René Beerkens in the spotlight, working as a Climate & Data-driven Growing Consultant at Hoogendoorn. Learn about his Plant Empowerment journey and how his work impacts the global horticultural sector.

Published: June 5, 2024 Share?

How the Plant Empowerment journey started 🌱

From state-of-the-art climate control computers to sensors that can help detect even the tiniest of crop anomalies, the global horticulture industry now has ever more technological innovations available to it.

Reflecting on his 24 years at Hoogendoorn, Beerkens observes that he has, in fact, never seen such a rapid shift in horticultural technology. 

There’s a lot of investment being put into horticulture – and so the learning curve has never been steeper. So, we need people to fill in those knowledge gaps.

Beerkens is part of a pioneering group of Plant Empowerment consultants doing precisely this. The group is made up of experts from each of the six Plant Empowerment Implementation Partners. These six world-leading companies include Hoogendoorn – which is renowned for creating sustainable and user-friendly automation solutions for horticultural business worldwide., Saint-Gobain Cultilene, Ludvig Svensson,, Hortilux Schréder, and Koppert. 

In the five years since the Plant Empowerment Foundation was officially formed, these Implementation Partners and their consultants have arguably become the world’s A-team for horticulture. 

Beerkens says: “The intrinsic motivation for us is to help every grower. And in order to do this we, as consultants, are continually evaluating and sharing insights with one other. We have to talk to other people to complete the gaps in our knowledge. If we accept that we don’t know everything but we’re willing to get to know and correlate everything with one another then that actually makes being part of Plant Empowerment a pleasant experience for us.” By this approach we are really able to elevate one others knowledge level and at the same time this enables our companies to help growers in an even better way. 

I know a lot about irrigation, for example, but not the details and definitely not the latest insights. So that’s why we discuss and consult – in this case (with regard to irrigation) it would be with Saint-Gobain Cultilene. And, like wise, I may receive a phone call from my fellow consultants asking: ‘What’s your opinion on this climate control strategy? What’s the latest news? And that’s the basis of Plant Empowerment. Without consultants, we couldn’t have started this.

Beerkens recalls how the formation of the Plant Empowerment Foundation “A-team” was a natural progression of the training, seminars, and research the founding companies had for several years been carrying out, worldwide – from Moscow to Mexico – on Next Generation Growing. This data-driven growing philosophy focuses on optimising the natural behaviour of the plants by improving the conditions in the greenhouse to keep the plants’ main balances – water, energy, and assimilates (sugars) – in balance.

The value of data-driven growing 👋🏽

Sustainability and profitability are thus at the core of the Plant Empowerment philosophy, says Beerkens.

We help growers to use their greenhouses in a more beneficial way for their plants. And that has a lot to do with considering when, and in what amounts, to turn on the heat, for instance. It’s about learning a smarter way of ventilating and heating the greenhouse. By deploying smart ventilation of the greenhouse, they can really push the boundaries – resulting in more net-photosynthesis, at very much lower costs.

He emphasizes how the value of data-driven growing was highlighted when the Plant Empowerment principles were applied by their team in the Autonomous Greenhouse Challenge in 2020. Then, international teams conducted an experiment to remotely grow a cherry tomato crop during a six-month period in a greenhouse of WUR, The Netherlands.

Together for a better future 

René asserts that the Plant Empowerment principles will help the industry better cope with challenges such as energy crises, climate change and issues such as water scarcity that are related to our changing climate. Other challenges include the reduction in the number of approved crop protection chemicals, and an insufficient number of professional growers worldwide. To that end, Plant Empowerment’s teachings are now largely focussed on how to grow crops in a more resilient way, because the availability of (crop protection) chemicals is going down.

In the Netherlands we are at the forefront of horticultural technology. This means that we often have a steep learning curve to climb but, once we’ve ‘climbed’ over it, we’re able to share our insights with growers across the globe. The magic of Plant Empowerment is that we have renowned knowledgeable companies each putting out the same message. And that means that the message is more impactful, and is spread around the globe ten times faster, because it’s coming from different angles – so everybody hears about it.