Orchard of the Future

Impact program Washington State (related to collaboration with the Californian Department of Food nd Agriculture)

Washington State

Featured image for “Orchard of the Future”

Many people often have a nostalgic perception of orchards. Rows of fruit trees where you can pick your own fruit and the remaining is harvested by the farmer. Healthy and organic fruit at your fingertips. Nowadays modern fruit growers are professional businesspeople grappling with numerous challenges in cultivating and harvesting their crops. Leveraging a combination of existing and emerging smart technologies from both of our ecosystems can help address these challenges.

Need for action

In order to keep pace with increasing consumer and government demands regarding sustainability, environment, and food safety in the fruit sector combined with the declining availability of workforce, intensified collaboration to speed up innovations and secure a sustainable future for the tree fruit sector is imperative.

Fruit growers face a certain number of challenges, such as:

  • A large labor force is needed to handle the picking and harvesting process. This labor force is increasingly hard to find. Also, rules for worker protection are getting stricter, so using current tools like ladders will become increasingly difficult.
  • There is growing concern regarding the effects of crop protection products on the environment and biodiversity. This has led to strict legislation specifying the use of crop protection products. This means that application of agrochemicals must continue to adapt and decrease.
  • Natural resources such as water are becoming scarcer due to climate change.
  • To ensure food safety, grocery stores, and government bodies (e.g. FDA in the US and NVWA in the Netherlands) are increasingly demanding transparency and information on production methods and standards from the growers. At the same time, consumer demands for clean and sustainably produced fruits are increasing. This requires growers to find innovative and sustainable production methods to address these societal shifts.

The demand for high-quality and healthy fruit is growing, thanks to extra attention to the superior health-preserving aspects of frequent fruit consumption. Moreover, Fruit and vegetable consumption is growing due to a growing population and are more and more used as a replacement for less healthy and often highly processed snacks. To keep up with this growing demand for high-quality fruit we must think of a different approach for growing, handling, and securing our fruit supply chains.

Social and economic opportunities

Innovation for tree fruit growers around orchard automation can be accelerated by working with the best AgTech competences of both Dutch and US partners. Working with the implemented automation can potentially:

  • prevent excess use of chemicals;
  • increase efficiency;
  • reduce the negative impact on climate and biodiversity;
  • accelerate the process of technology development and adoption and;
  • increase good labor conditions for workers in the fruit-growing industry.

The best possible results can be achieved by creating a new model that integrates research, education & training, growth methods, production processes, distribution, and sales, enabling sustainable and beneficial developments for all parties involved.

Through automation, these processes provide year-round fruit availability for a growing population. Collaboration among government organizations and (local) businesses helps accelerate these efforts in solving shared challenges.

Public-private approach

The goal of this collaboration program is to accelerate the adoption of innovative solutions in tree fruit orchards in Washington State and in the broader Western US. This is done by combining the innovative strengths of both Dutch and American agrobusiness ecosystems to establish new business models and solve the major challenges we are facing in the areas of workforce scarcity, efficiency, environment, sustainability, and food safety.

The Orchard of the Future collaboration is focused on 3 objectives:

  1. Sustainability of production by development of smart machinery to manage fruit trees on a single-plant level (or lower) to optimize crop protection, leaf fertilization, or use of plant hormones.
  2. Maximizing yields and reducing food losses by optimizing production and storage through growth optimization at the level of individual trees with the help of AI decision models.
  3. Minimizing costs and consolidating profitability through the development of resource-efficient multifunctional robots, solving the current problem of labor availability for the less attractive tasks, and improving working conditions leading to new attractive jobs.

We work on achieving these goals in a consortium with members representing the industry (both AgTech and growers), government, and research on both sides of the ocean. 

If you have questions about the Orchard of the Future and are interested in learning more, feel free to visit the website www.orchardofthefuture.org

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Take a look at NLWorks’ strategy, and our current and past programs


Partnership developer

Joke Vroegop

Joke Vroegop

+31 6 34 69 63 95
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Sustainable development goals (SDGs)

9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure
12: Responsible consumption and production
13: Climate action