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Horticoop actively invests in companies that are committed to a sustainable greenhouse horticulture industry. Vivent, world leader in digital crop diagnostics, has been added to the portfolio. The technology developed by Vivent gives growers more insight into plant health during the cultivation cycle. Wilco Schoonderbeek, Investments Director at Horticoop, talks to Carrol Plummer, CEO and co-founder of Vivent, about what the technology can offer the industry.

Carrol Plummer, Vivent CEO

Wilco: ‘Carrol, at Horticoop we believe that Vivent can be an important building block in data-driven control of greenhouse horticulture cultivation. There has always been a lot of emphasis on measuring and controlling factors that affect crops, but your technology is one of the few that enables us to make adjustments based on the response from the crop itself. Can you tell us more about this?’

Carrol: ‘That’s right! Vivent is a scale-up involved in continuous monitoring of plant health. We record naturally occurring electrophysiological signals
that plants generate in response to environmental changes. At the start of the cultivation cycle,
we attach a small sensor to the plant, which
is removed just before the plant leaves the greenhouse. We use a plant’s electrophysiology. This entails the sensor picking up on the plant’s internal electrical signals. Plants use these biological signals to regulate their internal growth and development and to monitor drought issues
or defence mechanisms. This enables the grower to monitor plant health throughout the cultivation cycle. Such sensors can be seen as wearables for plants.’

Wilco: ‘That’s incredibly useful, as it allows growers to intervene more quickly if it looks like things are going wrong. Previously, they could only take measures when the effects of poor conditions became visible on the plants. Vivent technology enables them to obtain direct feedback about a plant’s internal conditions.’

Carrol: ‘We can warn growers before visual symptoms, if the plant is attacked by pests, if it has a fungal disease or if there’s a shortage of certain nutrients. We transmit notifications and the grower receives interim reports so they can stay informed of developments.’

Wilco: ‘A promising technology that will contribute to improved greenhouse horticulture quality and sustainability. That’s why I believe that Vivent can have a huge impact in the industry. Horticoop’s current portfolio mainly comprises companies that are already somewhat bigger. The investment strategy has led to the inclusion of companies that are at an earlier stage and of which we have high expectations. Vivent is one such company.’

Carrol: ‘We also see a lot of potential in this cooperation. Of course, we welcome investments from every investor that can contribute to Vivent, but Horticoop’s investment received a particularly warm welcome. It increases our opportunities
for scaling up. We can also use your expertise to improve the product and market it effectively. It’s also a cooperative of growers of many different types of crops and has a lot of experience, outside the Netherlands too. So there are huge advantages for us in having Horticoop as an investor.’

Wilco: ‘I hope this cooperation enables us to surprise growers in a positive way. Naturally, growers rely on their experience. It’s an approach that has paid off for years. So it’s a major step to switch to data-driven cultivation. As a grower, you need to have faith in the technology.’

Carrol: ‘That’s right! I think it’s fantastic when I hear that growers have followed recommendations from our plant scientists. As soon as they trust us and see clearly better results, the ideas often start to flow. Then growers come to us with other ideas

so we can collect even more data. And we then give them the opportunity to test those ideas. The insights from collaborating are valuable for both parties. Growers are already experts, but many are seeking to learn a little more. In my opinion, the Netherlands has the best growers in the world and I’m looking forward to working with the best in the business.’

Wilco: ‘That benefits both growers and Vivent. But you do need to convince growers of this. New technologies result in a different way of working. Working practices are sometimes passed on from generation to generation, so they’re very personal.’

Carrol: ‘Indeed, our work is really at the core
of what the grower does. So I always think beforehand about whether our advice makes things less or more risky for the grower.
Growers are very good risk managers. They take major decisions at the start of the cultivation cycle – which crop will I plant and how should I approach the cultivation – and they then need to adhere to that until the end of the cycle. We hope we can achieve cost savings and better yields by helping them consider all the risks. Doing this helps us make growers’ livelihoods more secure. As growers take a long-term view, we can work with them to measure the impact of our technology on crop sustainability.’

Wilco: ‘That sounds like a great mission. I always find it encouraging to see companies searching for new innovations and a new market. Joining forces can also really pay off. In that respect, Horticoop offers Vivent a large network of companies where there are many opportunities.’

Carrol: ‘Certainly! We see so many opportunities for cooperation with the companies in which Horticoop has already invested. Take Blue Radix, for example, which is involved in AI controlled cultivation in greenhouses. We can offer them an additional information source, which adds value to the information they already collect. Growers are the ultimate beneficiaries of this.’

Wilco: ‘Indeed, groundbreaking innovations can emerge from such partnerships. Not only in greenhouse horticulture but for agriculture
in its broadest sense. That’s what makes it so interesting! If you’ve developed a technology that can also be used in other industries, it’s a huge plus point from an investor’s point of view.’

‘Plant-driven cultivation enables you to intervene in the cultivation process based on information that comes directly from the plants’

Carrol: ‘Certainly! Various companies are already rather advanced in this. Growers that operate high-tech greenhouses are taking the lead in data-driven control of their processes. We can take them to an even higher level by giving them more information that comes directly from the plants themselves. Then cultivation becomes plant-driven. Combining our technology with other innovative technologies enables us to develop concepts that can be used in more than one industry, which increases our impact.’

Wilco: ‘Pymwymic, our co-investor, can also support you in this. As a pioneering impact investor, Pymwymic has a wealth of experience. A truly fantastic cooperation from which both Horticoop and Vivent can benefit.’

Carrol: ‘Pymwymic and Horticoop had already given us so much, long before the investment was completed. We measured the impact of
our technology together. It was great to see how the teams readily came together and were willing to put a lot of time into Vivent in advance. Truly remarkable! The combined knowledge of Pymwymic and Horticoop will increase our opportunity to impact sustainability in the greenhouse horticulture industry.’

Wilco: ‘It’s certainly a great partnership and I’m so pleased that this trio was established! I’m looking forward to building towards a sustainable greenhouse horticulture industry and I’m convinced that the future will offer us so much!’