Smart automation facilitates ambitious seed breeding process

Founded in 2010 by Alois and Sander van Vliet, Axia Seeds, based in the Netherlands, has rapidly evolved into a mature seed-breeding company. According to the latest figures, 10% of Dutch tomatoes are now grown from seeds developed by Axia. Breeding vegetable seeds is precision work. It not only demands a great deal of patience, but also depends on closely monitoring the entire production process to ensure premium quality. Automation is now an integral part of this process, along with Axia's own research laboratory, seed technology and close collaboration with both growers and consultants. Roy Verbeek, in charge of tomato production at two Axia sites, tells us how HortiMaX products - and especially our after-sales service - have made all the difference to their operation.

Easy to use thanks to symbolic views
According to Roy, the most essential part of Axia's automation infrastructure is climate and irrigation control. The company controls its climate and irrigation equipment using our HortiMaX Synopta PC software. When we asked him about his experience with the software, he was keen to tell us how user-friendly he found it to be. "The symbolic views make the software a breeze to use. This feature enables you to create your own visual 'summaries’ of key greenhouse processes. For instance, since we have 8 stock tanks and 14 compartments, we can prepare a different fertilizer recipe for almost every compartment. We’re able to monitor the entire fertigation process using our own custom summary. It shows us, for example, which daily stock tank is currently being used, or what the salt content and pH value are of the stock solution. In this way, we can keep track of everything at a glance and make quick adjustments where necessary. It's an extremely useful tool!"

Creating summaries couldn't be more simple
Although Roy is Axia's climate and irrigation control expert, he doesn't have to worry about things going horribly wrong when he isn't there. 'As the tables, reports, graphs and summaries are so easy to create and interpret, you can learn how use the software in no time at all. If someone needs to take over for me, that person can access a complete overview of our operation with the press of a button. This instantly lets them see: Are the lamps on? What is the temperature in each compartment? How much irrigation water has been applied? And so on. They can basically monitor all the elements essential to keeping the plants healthy. 

Very satisfied with commitment and fast support
If there is a problem with the system or he simply has a question, Roy says he can always count on HortiMaX for quick assistance. "When I call HortiMaX, I get a trained technician on the phone within minutes. Unfortunately, that hasn't always been my experience with other suppliers. HortiMaX is also able to access our system remotely, so we can take a look at the problem together. For example, three weeks ago our boiler would start running at the wrong times as some of the buffer settings weren't configured correctly. When I called HortiMaX, we quickly worked out what adjustments needed to be made. They even logged into the system that night to see if everything was still running smoothly. It's reassuring to know that they will keep an eye on the system even after the issue has been resolved. This commitment and fast support makes me a very satisfied customer."

Synopta 5 is set to be launched in January - something Roy is already looking forward to. "I've heard it will make creating summaries even easier, and enable you to create even more of them. We'll be getting the new version as soon as it is released. I can't wait."

Hard work yields impressive results
The fruits of Axia’s hard work over the last seven years are proudly showcased in their demonstration greenhouse. In this 'candy store' for commercial growers, an impressive range of 28 greenhouse tomato varieties are on display. This gives growers the opportunity to compare the characteristics of various tomato varieties in the large, medium-sized and plum tomato categories, so they can make an informed choice. The extensive assortment on view is definitely a sight to behold.

Pushing boundaries to improve quality
To retain its competitive edge, Axia is constantly working on pushing the boundaries of seed development. It is only through this commitment that the quality of the tomatoes can be enhanced even further. The focus here is on improving taste, nutritional value and the revenue potential of tomato growers. To facilitate these goals, Axia strives to maintain a high level of innovation - also when it comes to automation. That's why the company is planning to introduce the iWorker app throughout its greenhouse facilities. The iWorker app is an extension of HortiMaX Productive, a flexible labor and product tracking system. Axia intends to use iWorker to further enhance its IPM (Integrated Pest Management) practices. With the app, crop workers will be able capture pest sightings and other issues on the spot, as well as record the activities they have performed. This will provide accurate, real-time information, so any corrective action can be taken immediately. 

Working together to drive innovation
Today, automation and greenhouse horticulture are inseparably interconnected - and for good reason. Growers obviously have much to gain by being able to analyze large amounts of data with ease and use it to control various greenhouse processes. Axia proves that the same applies to seed breeding companies. Axia Seeds and HortiMaX have clearly found an excellent match in each other. 'Working together to drive innovation’ seems an apt motto here - one that both companies will definitely continue to pursue.

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