Item has been added to cart.
Item has been removed from cart.
Customer added to cart.
You need to select customer before adding products.
You can only buy a limited number of this item.


Sjaak Bakker was manager of the Greenhouse Horticulture and Flower Bulbs business unit at Wageningen University & Research (WUR) until the end of 2022. Although he recently retired, he is still actively involved in the work. WUR is currently renovating the greenhouses where research and tests are carried out. Due to his extensive experience and expertise, WUR has asked Sjaak to help coordinate these innovations, at least until the end of 2024. He is therefore still using his knowledge and skills to successfully lead this process.

How has your time at WUR influenced your view on technological developments in greenhouse horticulture?

“It's actually the other way around,” says Sjaak, laughing. He continues: “When I studied at the Agricultural College (now Wageningen University), it was mainly known for green disciplines, but the role of technology was underestimated, actually unfairly. Greenhouse horticulture is not just about plants, but also about technology. My experience is that a combination of plant cultivation and technology is very powerful.

When I graduated in '82 and had to choose my subjects, I wanted to combine horticulture with architecture and control technology. The response to this was laughable at the time, but that combination did help me to understand developments in greenhouse horticulture and to play a role in them. Much progress in the sector comes from technology, sometimes from outside, but also often specifically within the sector. A good example of this is LED lighting. Although this had great success in other areas such as buildings and cars, there was initially little interest in horticulture among the major LED producers. This is because the market for LED in horticulture is relatively small compared to other sectors. These companies therefore saw little potential for major investments. That is why many innovations in horticulture depend on specific knowledge and SME companies within the sector itself, especially in the field of climate control and light.

I have learned that the combination of technical and green knowledge is essential for progress in greenhouse horticulture. WUR has played an important role in this by bringing together technical and green groups within one business unit.”

How will the focus on sustainability influence the future of greenhouse horticulture, and how can technologies help?
Sjaak: “If you look at where greenhouse horticulture is going, you see that sustainability has been going on for decades. We have been working on energy saving and smart use of things since the late 1970s. Technologies are extremely important here. With closed cultivation systems and advanced climate control, we can better control the conditions, which leads to more sustainable production.

But be careful, greenhouse horticulture really plays a leading role when it comes to sustainability. We want to use less energy, reduce emissions and reuse more water and minerals. We do this by investing heavily in new technologies. In this way we show that they are simply essential for our sustainability efforts. And we continue to develop and invest to reduce our impact on the environment while boosting productivity.”

How has the greenhouse horticulture sector benefited from technological innovations such as AI and data analytics? And what do you think are still untapped opportunities?
Sjaak: “AI and data analysis have also given greenhouse horticulture a significant boost. Thanks to self-learning models and smart systems that support decisions, our production processes are much better and we have started working more efficiently. We can now monitor crops much better and optimize the conditions in which they grow.

As for untapped opportunities and possibilities, of course they are there. But no one knows yet what they are. Time will tell. What I do know is that it is really exciting to see how technologies are developing outside the sector and creating new opportunities for greenhouse horticulture. Just look at the development of the 'autonomous greenhouse' that we have deployed. I think we can do even more with AI and data analysis, for example to use water and crop protection even smarter. And how great would it be if we could develop autonomous systems that help with harvesting and packaging? The trick is to continue investing in research and development, so that we can really get the most out of those technologies for a sustainable and productive future.”


How do you see the relationship between human creativity and advanced technologies such as AI in the future of the industry?
Sjaak: “It's an interesting balance. I don't think robots will suddenly completely replace people. That idea alone can be quite terrifying. Consider, for example, robots that make their own decisions in warfare that is being carried out in the defense industry. I really hope that there are enough sensible people who keep this in check, because if technology really takes over, then I don't think we are on the right track. This discussion is therefore not only about technology, but also about ethics. There are so many scientific and technological developments, but it is about how we use them and what we want to use them for. So where do you draw the line? That also depends on the political landscape and what people still find or will find acceptable. I find that really difficult sometimes.

But let's not forget that there are also many positive sides of technology. Take DNA technology: if you have genetic disorders that you could get rid of, then that is great. But I also understand the reservations, because sometimes the long-term effects are difficult to estimate. And there are also advantages in the field of robotization, especially in greenhouse horticulture. We have a labor shortage there, so if we can leave relatively simple production work to robots, that is fantastic.

In short, I think that technology will increasingly take over operational decisions, but will also play a role in strategic decision-making and risk management. So yes, I'm really looking forward to what technology will bring us!”


You have already had a long career in greenhouse horticulture, in combination with research and technology. What is your advice for young professionals who aspire to a career in greenhouse horticulture?
Sjaak: “You should always do what you like. If you start doing something against your will because you think it will result in a fantastic job, then you are not going to stick with it. If you want a career in greenhouse horticulture, I think you will also have to want something with technology. It doesn't matter what, it could be a biological control technique or it could be some other technique. In any case, look for a specialty in which you want to excel within the context of the entire greenhouse horticulture chain. Greenhouse horticulture has become too broad to be a generalist and you can be successful by combining expertise with an area of ​​application.”

Want to discuss your perfect
climate solution?