User story

K&G Group LLC

K&G Group LLC was established on the outskirts of Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, in 2017. Syuzanna Hovsepyan joined as the grower in June of that year, just after the first strawberry crop had been planted. Since then, the company has expanded to 9 ha of greenhouse production, and Syuzanna is Senior Agronomist. Having been inspired by the Plant Empowerment book, she attended the Summer School in 2023 to gain even more insights from the experts in person.


Plant Empowerment helps me to use all the available data rather than be overwhelmed by it

“When we started, it was still fairly unusual to grow strawberries indoors in Armenia. In fact, our 3 ha plastic greenhouse was only the second strawberry greenhouse in the country,” says Syuzanna Hovsepyan. Since then, lots more strawberry greenhouses have been set up– albeit mainly small-scale ones, she explains: “High-tech strawberry cultivation is attracting a lot of interest from investors because, as a high-value crop, it offers a shorter payback period of just three to four years. Today, Armenia has around 35 ha of controlled environment agriculture for strawberries.”

K&G Group accounts for 9 of those hectares nowadays, making it one of the country’s biggest indoor strawberry growers. Syuzanna oversees the operations to cultivate the company’s three chosen varieties – Murano, Favori and Sonsation – which are grown hydroponically on 3 ha each. 

 “Our success depends on quality,” states Syuzanna. “The local market is very small, so almost all of our strawberries are exported – mainly to Russia, but that poses some extra challenges right now of course, so we are also looking at markets in the Middle East. Our end customers are willing to pay a premium for extremely high-end products, and presentation is very important. That’s why we place the strawberries in a box by hand, one by one, to form a neat line.”

Lifelong learning

Syuzanna is a firm believer in lifelong learning. After graduating as a breeder, she did a master’s and then a PhD, followed by a second master’s in International Horticulture at Leibniz University Hannover, Germany. “Additionally, I followed training courses and gained work experience in the Netherlands, including at Wageningen University. I also spent some time working as a consultant with various small-scale companies in Armenia, including hydroponic strawberry greenhouses that were cultivating the everbearing Californian strawberry variety called Albion,” she continues. 

After leaving that role, she still kept in touch with the Dutch head of the consultancy company , and one day he told her about a book introducing a new approach to crop cultivation: Plant Empowerment. “I liked the book so much because it explained everything so simply, with lots of clear graphs and formulas for extra illustration. I even shared it with various people as a good source of knowledge. Since then, it seems like the book has become very popular because even our new financial director has read it to get a better understanding of what’s going on in our greenhouses. In fact, I believe every grower – and greenhouse owner – should read it!” she says

Exploring the potential

The Senior Agronomist was keen to explore Plant Empowerment’s potential to help her solve her cultivation challenges. “You face new challenges every day in strawberry greenhouses – from issues with insects to wilting plants due to too much heat, for example. And the climate here in Armenia is always a challenge. Even in wintertime, the sun can be still intense: we can get 700 to 1,000J of radiation. At the same time, it is often quite windy. To get the heat out, we have to open the vents, but the high wind speed makes this difficult or even impossible. So it is always a balance between the outside conditions and a good climate inside,” she adds.

“I had some ideas about how to control the climate in our three greenhouses, helped by our climate computer, but it was a complex task and I always felt I was missing something. And I never imagined that we could be doing so many things better until I read the Plant Empowerment book!” states Syuzanna. “For example, I never fully understood when to open the screen and why, and how big the gaps should be. Similarly, I never really thought about how ventilation could affect different parts of the greenhouse differently, increasing the risk of plant problems in certain areas.”

Plant Empowerment has even changed her thinking about labour, according to Syuzanna: “I’ve realized that things like pruning should be done when it’s the right time for the plant, and not just because it fits in with your workforce planning.”

Summer School

“I became so fascinated by the plant balances that I looked for as much extra information as I could find about the principles, including online scientific articles, case studies and interviews,” she recalls. Another source of information for Syuzanna was the Plant Empowerment Summer School held during the GreenTech event in Amsterdam in June 2023. “I loved all the lectures. Even if you already understand the theory, hearing the information from the Plant Empowerment experts in person adds an extra dimension. When they are on the stage, the powerful, positive light of their knowledge and wisdom fills the room and our hearts! They have first-hand, practical experience of facing and solving typical problems. They explained everything so clearly and simply – using lots of real-life examples – that it was easy to understand and remember. Plus they created a very friendly and open atmosphere so we all felt comfortable enough to ask all our questions – and because of their strong professional background, they always had the perfect answers.” 

Besides benefiting from the experts’ knowledge, Syuzanna also enjoyed the networking opportunities. “There were around a dozen participants from different countries and with different crops, but we all shared the same aim: to understand the plant better. It was very interesting to hear about each other’s situations, and we’re still in touch with one another – and the experts – in a WhatsApp group where we can discuss our day-to-day production issues and ask questions.”

Guidance to connect the dots

“Once you discover it’s about understanding the balances between all the different factors – radiation, temperature, water, humidity – and putting the plant first, so many things fall into place. Plant Empowerment gives you guidance on how to connect all the dots,” she continues. 

“After all, merely having access to data is not enough, in my experience. You also need to manage, understand and analyse it, and Plant Empowerment is an ideal tool for interpreting situations and correcting things step by step. Above all, I’ve learned how to study the data from the climate computer to identify the cause of a problem and think how to solve it, rather than rushing into a solution. Plant Empowerment has helped me to use all the available data rather than be overwhelmed by it,” reflects Syuzanna.

One change she would still like to make at K&G Group is to install an indoor light sensor in addition to the outside sensor: “That will give me the real-time data I need, rather than depending on guesswork based on my own measurements, observations, assumptions and calculations. Then I will be able to optimally adapt the irrigation schedule based on the actual radiation level inside the greenhouse.”

User-friendly data platform

Syuzanna currently uses Excel to manually combine the climate parameters with other data such as yields, losses, labour and working time for all three of the greenhouses. “This takes up a lot of my time, which I could better spend managing our 120 workers, plus it’s very difficult to spot patterns that could support my decisions,” she explains. “’The next step is to combine climate data with other data from within our company. Such a management system would present the information in a much more user-friendly way and visualize all the data in clear graphs and overviews. First, however, we’re focusing on adding an extra 2 ha and also switching to a double-cropping strategy. After that, I hope that the LetsGrow data platform will be the next step in our Plant Empowerment journey.”

Good progress

“Thanks to maintaining a uniform climate, we now have uniform plants, or at the very least uniform problems – and they are much easier to manage. We can also use the data to predict what we could or should be achieving, and see what we need to change to optimize our performance,” says Syuzanna.

“If we made all our decisions based on the data and in line with the Plant Empowerment principles, I’m sure we could be even more successful. I think we could improve our current yield by at least 20%. And I’m looking forward to putting that to the test in the near future,” she concludes.

Would you like to participate in Summer School 2024?

Project Manager

Jeannette den Boer