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Stellenbosch University: Smart farming centre opened at Stellenbosch University

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​​Growing vegetables will never be the same again with the opening of the new HortiDemoCentre at the Stellenbosch University’s (SU) Welgevallen experimental farm this week.

The opening event showcased the best and most advanced Dutch horticultural technology in which climate smart farming helps to produce better and healthier products throughout the year while using less water and less pesticides.

The HortiDemoCentre is a 3 000 m2 multi-span greenhouse, designed to maximise airflow and light penetrations to optimise the climate or a range of hydroponically grown crops. It is unique tailor-made structure that is a combination of South African and Dutch technology that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

The Centre gives effect to the mutually beneficial collaboration between South Africa and the Netherlands – the second largest food exporter in the world. The Centre is a consortium of partners in the horticultural sector, including local and Dutch companies. The partners include SU, Delphy BV, SU, Greener Solutions (a South African company), Ludvig Svensson, Ridder Group, Rijk Zwaan, Koppert South Africa, and Control Union.

“Similar greenhouses do exist in South Africa; however, this is a first world class facility that is specially designed for training in this country,” said Prof Wim de Villiers, SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor, during the opening.

He proceeded: “The establishment of the Centre and Greenhouse is a significant achievement that will benefit research and productivity in the agriculture sector, across continents. And it will expand South Africa’s research capabilities and food productivity.”

The centre is open to students, established and up-and-coming farmers, agronomists, researchers, local government officials and extension specialists, as well as value chain participants like buyers and retailers. It is working towards being a viable business by implementing innovative Dutch technologies for profitable, sustainable and climate smart agronomy and offering training to students and emerging farmers.

Sustainable agriculture

According to Mr Niek Bosmans, Agricultural Councilor of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, “the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture Nature and Food quality wants to promote sustainable agriculture worldwide, with a focus on three goals over the next ten years – strengthening the position of sustainable entrepreneurs, produce within the capacity of the earth and strengthening global food security.”

The HortiDemoCentre is exactly part of the goals, because it is designed to enable production all year long, and to empower young entrepreneurs and students to achieve success, he commented.

“New developments only work when people work together, believe in one another and work towards the same goal, but they also have to be flexible when the game is taking a different direction. South Africa has smart farming opportunities as a result of climate change,” Bosmans added.

Dr Estelle Kempen, lecturer in the SU Department of Agronomy, said: “It is such a privilege to be part of this project, it has been a great pleasure to work with all the partners and it is evident that work can be done and achieved when people work towards the same goal.” She added that the facility will be used to teach the next generation of researchers and farmers.