Kentucky and NL AgTech collaboration continues to grow together

The feasibility study of a Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) Ecosystem in Kentucky listed ten recommendations in the development of an AgTech ecosystem. These recommendations included a clear pathway for open field and mid-tech high tunnel growers to grow towards high-tech CEA production and the development of relevant educational programs. Important steps have been taken in the realization of these recommendations, such as the visit of Dutch agricultural knowledge institutes in a so-called Groen Pact-mission and a SME grower-oriented workshop to adopt a tailored-tech approach.

Dutch Groen pact delegation visits Kentucky educational & governmental organizations

A delegation from the Netherlands, consisting of HAS Green Academy, InHolland University of Applied Sciences, Yuverta, HortiTech, NLWorks, the Netherlands Deputy Consul General in Chicago and Kim Tran, the Agricultural Attaché at the Netherlands Embassy in Washington, D.C., visited the Commonwealth of Kentucky The purpose of the delegation’s visit was to further strengthen and expand existing ties, to discuss the possibilities for the We Grow Together NL-US consortium, to execute/host a SME grower-oriented workshop, and to pave the way for the local intermediary to further enhance the collaboration(s) and possibilities for student-lecture exchanges, internships and student projects between educational institutions.

Kentucky has a large population of SME growers and has one of the highest usage of high tunnels in the US. This fact, combined with the rising demand for local, healthy and affordable produce, creates many opportunities to improve the technology level of those growers, which results in higher profits and better yields. The Dutch Ag-tech sector can have a big impact for the SME growers, by helping them grow and develop with incremental steps along the Stepping Stone model.

Delegation visit

The delegation consisted of a mix of Dutch knowledge partners, both on the institutional level and the practical level. The objective of the visit was to explore opportunities with their Kentuckian counterparts and to connect with all relevant stakeholders in the Kentucky horticultural ecosystem.

The Dutch knowledge institutions were focused on connecting with the various Kentucky based knowledge institutions, to find out how they perceive the horticultural education needs and how they have shaped their curriculum accordingly. The delegation visited the following universities: University of Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky University, Berea College, Kentucky State University, Morehead State University, University of Pikeville and Fayette County Highschool. The delegation was supported by Groenpact. The main objective of Groenpact is to strengthen and renew the Dutch knowledge and innovation system, to be able to make meaningful contribution to solve the major challenges of our time - at national and global levels -, and to strengthen the sustainable competitiveness of the Dutch green sector.

Next to the visits to the knowledge institutions, several visits were made to (among others) local food-related businesses (growers, end-users, facilitators): The Food Connection, Grow Appalachia, AppHarvest and Locals Foodhub. The goal of these visits was to find out how ‘local-for-local’ production is shaped in the Kentucky area. The drive towards more local food is significant and provides the opportunity to be converted into higher demand for locally produced fruit and vegetables. This in return should lead the local growers wanting to expand their operations, which is where the ‘Let’s Grow Together’ consortium can play a role, by showcasing Dutch technology and sharing knowledge which can help these growers expand and grow.

Tailored tech approach

The Dutch horticultural greenhouse technology is known for it’s high-tech, high yield approach, which can be seen at big commercial growers such as AppHarvest. However, this does not mean that Dutch technology is specifically aimed and useful for growers of this scale. SME growers require more incremental steps, which gradually increases their profitability. In Kentucky alone, there are about 2,500 SME growers, who produce their fruits and vegetables in many different ways.

Multiple steps

Several steps have been undertaken or are underway to assist the Kentucky horticultural sector in its development path:

A SME comparison study (completed)

  • In order to create a better view of the SME situation in Kentucky and to use a ‘best-practices’ approach, HortiTech created a Tailored Tech SME study which described the developmental path the Dutch sector took (in terms of production, marketing and sales) and to find overlaps, challenges and opportunities for the Kentucky sector. The SME study will become available through NLWorks.

A grower workshop in Kentucky (completed)

  • During the visit from the Dutch delegation, HortiTech hosted, together with the Kentucky Horticultural Council, a workshop where the horticultural development ‘Stepping Stones’ where discussed, as well as an in-depth look at horticultural irrigation methods (The Stepping Stone model creates a model where development from ‘open field’ cultivation to ‘closed greenhouses’ is visualized, which can create a development path for the user). The workshop served as a feedback moment, where the present growers could indicate where they stand on the stepping stone ladder and where they would see themselves grow to. The main focus which became apparent from the workshop results: make the demand for local produce more visible and provide growers with a path forward. This should lead to higher productions, more food security for the local communities as well as a thriving local-for-local market.

Tech map  

  • Dutch technology can play a significant role in these operations as well, through a tailored tech approach; finding and applying technology on small scale can already result in significant changes in quality and quantity for the SME growers. The upcoming goal is to map out these technologies on various aspects (climate control, energy control, growing media, etc.) and introduce these steps through demonstration.