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The 2021 Cross Visit of Network 8 “Water use Efficiency” under the NEFERTITI project was held in Bleiswijk, The Netherlands, on 7-8 October 2021. The Cross Visit was organized and hosted by NEFERTITI project partner Wageningen University & Research, Business Unit greenhouse horticulture, the worldwide leading research institute on high-tech protected cultivation. The Wageningen University & Research was also the host of the event which took place in their applied research centre for greenhouse horticulture in Bleiswijk.

The Cross Visit participants were growers from the Netherlands, Spain, and Poland, a member of the auxiliary industry from Portugal, representatives from a growers’ association and public authorities from the Netherlands, the Network 08 Network leader and Hub Coaches from above mentioned countries. Unfortunately, the number of participants was reduced because of COVID restrictions.

A key factor for the successes of the Cross Visit was that the event was combined together with the local 2021 Water Demo Event. This is an annual event in which 100+ people from the local greenhouse sector attend to see the latest developments in “ready-to-use” technology related to eliminating impacts on local water resources.

The cross visit started on 7th October with field demonstration at 2 commercial vegetable greenhouses, as firstly was discussed good agricultural practices in vegetable green sector between participants and Dutch growers.

The first demonstration was presented by Wouter van den Bosch, commercial grower of sweet pepper. The farmer did a very thorough explanation of the overall farming practices and focused on water management and water treatment. The second demonstration was done by Jos Ammerlaan, a grower of Chrysanthemum. During both demonstrations were discussed the topics related to water management, soil moisture sensors and models, such as the virtual lysimeter. The greenhouses visits in the morning were very productive for the participants. In both of the visits, a small booklet of slides was provided to the visitors which was extremely helpful during the theoretical explanations. Sheets were provided by the organisers with additional information on legislation, a schedule of the cultivation system and more detailed information on the demonstrated technology. The language skills of the demonstrators were exceptionally good and allowed not only for a good demonstration but for a fruitful exchange of ideas.

The second part of the Cross-Visit was visit at Wageningen University & Research. The visit started with a presentation about the Research Centre activities and the Dutch AKIS system and knowledge exchange model. According to this model farmers working in cooperation with the research centre and on the basis of  farmers’ needs to enhance their production the Centre implements  different research activities.

After  the held demo events, participants visited the Water Event started. It was a notorious advantage to include the yearly Water Event in the Cross-Visit. During the Water Event, Dutch growers have the opportunity to see and discuss the latest developments in research to improve fertigation, water management, water treatment, etc. Half of the attendees are growers, and the other half are suppliers. The Dutch greenhouse sector must eliminate nutrient and pesticide emissions to water in soilless cultivation and minimize leaching in soil-bound cultivation by 2027. Given that this sector is at the vanguard of adaptation of horticulture to strict environmental regulations in Europe, this adaptation made for a fascinating Cross Visit. This allowed for a variety of demonstrations since during the morning participants went to visit farms and in the afternoon they participated in research pitches and workshops. The Water Event also allowed for some networking and sharing of ideas amongst the participants. It is a wonderful way of implementing peer-to-peer learning in between and after knowledge exchange sessions, but due to COVID measures, unfortunately, the networking opportunities during this event were more limited than before.

Within the Water Event the participants were part of two workshops, one with Filip Van Noort in greenhouse experiments with exotic crops and one with Ellen Beerling and Tommaso Barbagli regarding the format of the Water Event. Then, the Cross-Visit participants attended the different pitches on:

– Microbiology in rootzone;

– Fertigation and plant health;

– Local nitrate production applied to organic cultivation;

– Effect of sodium levels in fertigation;

–  Development of soilless cultivation system for freesia;

–   Water treatment: filtration.

These pitches consisted of a short presentation from researchers, followed by questions and sharing of ideas by participants.

Overall, the Network 8 2021 Cross-Visit was successful. Due to the 2020 break-in Cross Visits given the COVID pandemic, the NEFERTITI partners were eager to meet again and share ideas and practices. It was agreed that the Cross-Visit was very well organized, participants admired the example of the close interaction of growers and researchers. All cross visit participants were thankful for nicely hospitability by the Dutch demonstrators and researchers.

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