Precision horticulture and precision agriculture are what Koppert is aiming for with its latest technological innovation. Natutec Drive is the name and a technology that will save horticulturists, fruit growers, and farmers considerable time.
For years, horticulturists have been able to blow their predatory mites and other beneficials using blowing devices such as Airobug, Airbug, and Mini-Airbug. They have a good track record – they enable biological control in hard-to-access crops, saving considerable work. The three blowing devices available from Koppert reliably cover the crop with beneficials and are characterized by low mortality rates. All in all, Airobug, Airbug, and Mini-Airbug have the top spot on the podium when it comes to effectiveness, return on investment in the beneficials, and labour cost savings.
All of this got product developers at Koppert thinking – what if we took one of these blowing devices and attached it to a frame that could be pulled behind a tractor? And what if the blowing device could operate vertically as well as horizontally?
Accurate to every square metre
That blowing device is now here: it goes by the name Natutec Drive and is already being used in the cultivation of strawberries. It is a structure containing an electric motor, a storage drum at the centre, a patented manifold, and finally eight distribution hoses. The grower can control the device from a monitor in the cab. The drum turns, ensuring constant, uniform distribution of the beneficials and carrier material.
The new blowing device contains a world of refined technology, explains Tom Vroegop, product manager for Natutec. ‘The Natutec Drive allows you to distribute all manner of beneficials over a crop with great accuracy. On the monitor screen, the grower can specify which beneficials to blow and how densely it should be done. This ensures highly accurate distribution. Each beneficial, every carrier material, accurately distributed over every square metre. That really is very precise.'
Substantial saving on labour costs
Manually distributing beneficials over strawberries takes an average of 140 minutes for each hectare – the Natutec Drive brings this down to 36 minutes, barely a quarter of the time. The device also allows for combined blowing of beneficials, saving the grower even more time. ‘Labour is a hot issue. In many countries, and all manner of crops, it’s the biggest cost factor and yet at the same time, growers are finding it harder and harder to recruit enough labour. Natutec Drive allows us to tackle precisely this problem in terms of plant protection. Calculate how many labour hours, and costs, a grower with fifty, one hundred, two hundred acres will save.’
The boom to which the distribution hoses are attached can be set in both a horizontal and vertical position, allowing the Natutec Drive to be used in greenhouses, tunnels, and open ground, also well as in high crops. ‘This makes blowing, and all of its advantages, something that is accessible to farms cultivating apples, pears, or citrus fruits for example. The Natutec Drive will soon be usable in a wide variety of crops and on all types of farm.’
‘A fantastic device’
The Natutec Drive can be fitted to a mobile undercarriage or moved along a tubular rail system. The new blowing device has been rigorously tested on a number of farms, which are now using it in full. They are all, without exception, happy with the result. These farms include Irish soft fruit giant Keelings and Dutch companies Royal Berry in Bemmel and H.G. Fruit BV in Nispen.
Denis Keny, farm manager at Keelings, explains that the Natutec Drive works ‘like a dream’. ‘We had an accuracy level of 95 per cent in the first applications of Thripex and Spidex, and that is only likely to improve.’ Brian Duggen is responsible for Integrated Pest Management, ‘It’s fantastic to be able to have this device. The benefits are huge – even distribution of beneficials and savings on labour.’
A Dutch user has also given an enthusiastic response. This particular user has switched from pesticides to biological controls on account of the labour savings that can be achieved with Natutec Drive – only one employee is required to distribute the beneficials, rather than a whole team. Employees at the company’s three branches have praised the Natutec Drive’s speed and efficiency.
Effective and efficient
Horticulturists, fruit growers, and farmers must and want to work with greater accuracy, explains Tom Vroegop. ‘Everything is moving towards greater precision. Natutec Scout is part of that, so is the Natutec Drone, and now the Natutec Drive as well. What we do is both look at monitoring, i.e which pest is present and where, and then develop applications that can help growers to fight infestations with extreme accuracy. Technology is making more and more possible all the time, and we are using those opportunities to benefit our customers. They want both effective and robust biological plant protection and an efficient system that keeps labour costs down. Natutec Drive does both.’