They can be found in places where, once upon a time, the thought of growing vegetables would have been considered science fiction: in mega-hot deserts and close to the polar circle. To say that KUBO’s Ultra-Clima greenhouse has revolutionised the greenhouse industry would be an understatement. Fifteen years after their introduction, these greenhouses now cover more than 700 hectares across the globe. And to think that it all began with one single question posed to Wouter Kuiper by an American crop grower... ‘Casey Houweling (an American grower of Dutch descent – ed.) wanted to stop using flyscreens. He asked us if we could come up with a greenhouse based on the principle of overpressure.’ Fifteen years later, the company is by no means done developing the Ultra-Clima greenhouse. ‘Soon growing produce will be easy as pie.’
It may sound like quite the success story now, but it was a long time in the making. Thanks to Casey Houweling and KUBO’s Wouter Kuiper, the Ultra-Clima greenhouse proved to be a keeper. ‘Others would ask me if I was insane. A greenhouse manufacturer wanting to come up with a different concept for a greenhouse – what was I thinking?’ says Wouter. ‘But Casey believed in the concept. He knew that overpressure was the key to a different way of growing plants. Over the course of the innovation process, we began to see more and more opportunities and benefits.’
A trial greenhouse measuring 7,000 square metres was erected on Houweling’s commercial premises in California. ‘This was when we found the principle actually worked. Casey was successful with it right from the start. After five months, he said: “I want 16 hectares of this.” We felt it was a huge step to take, but he was motivated to do well with it. He soon began to produce more than one hundred kilos of tomatoes per square metre, right in his first season, while also consuming less energy and reducing his carbon dioxide emissions.’
New handbook for crop growers
KUBO needed that motivator to turn the Ultra-Clima concept into a bona fide success story. Because not only was the concept quite different, but it also required the handbook for crop growers to be rewritten, since the plant-growing method used in Ultra-Clima greenhouses is completely different from the one used in traditional greenhouses. It’s basically a complete U-turn. How to aid the growth of plants? Climate controllers proved not to be up to the task. Growing plants has become more of a physics-governed process, rather than ‘let me put my hand on a heat pipe and see what it’s like’.
This prompted KUBO to establish a new department: KUBO Smart Growing, which consists of ten employees: crop growers, scientists and occupational health and safety specialists. This team helps growers grow successful crops by means of guidance, training courses and answers to whatever practical questions may arise on the work floor.
One design, many benefits
KUBO found that it took about ten years for the Ultra-Clima greenhouse to become genuinely popular. The semi-closed greenhouse turned out to have a lot of advantages: excellent climate control, which helps increase crop yield; greater food safety; reduced energy and water consumption; as well as reduced carbon dioxide emissions. Put all these factors together and you’re looking at higher profits. ‘Yes, this constituted a breakthrough. We’ve found that the system enables us to realise a better plant balance, and more can be done in terms of temperature and climate control. In addition, the Ultra-Clima greenhouse allows people to grow things anywhere in the world, regardless of the local climate. It became obvious to us pretty quickly that these greenhouses were much more versatile than traditional greenhouses. These greenhouses can now be found in deserts, there are greenhouses in tropical climates and they can also be found in parts of the world that are extremely cold. The returns differ from location to location. At some locations the greenhouses help growers conserve energy, while at others, the advantage is that you can grow produce, whereas others can’t. Obviously, when that happens, a grower has hit the jackpot.’
By now other greenhouse manufacturers are allowed to develop their own versions of the Ultra-Clima greenhouse. The design is protected by patents and patent law, but manufacturers may apply for a sub-licence. ‘It’s up to other greenhouse manufacturers themselves to decide how to build this type of greenhouse. We have fifteen years’ experience, and we’ve found the combination of hardware, software and expertise to be a tricky one in practice. Moreover, there are so many different climate regions on our planet. Each climate has its own cultivation strategy, combined with the crop and system. This requires a great deal of knowledge.’
Towards autonomous growing
The Ultra-Clima greenhouse is evolving all the time. We haven’t seen the last of the new developments, Wouter assures us. ‘A few years ago we opened a test centre, Blue Lab, our own Ultra-Clima greenhouse near our headquarters in the Westland region. We’ve grown produce there now for more than three years. The trial greenhouse has helped us understand what other things can be done in these greenhouses. Rest assured that we’ve only just scratched the surface. Thanks to the success of our greenhouses and our excellent team, we’ve been able to take some steps towards autonomous growing. But I can tell you now that we will also take revolutionary steps with regard to energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. We will make plant-growing easier. Soon growing produce will be easy as pie. In future, growers will be able to scale up without any problems, while meeting the requirements of the Green Deal and any other requirements. This will be the greenhouse of the future.’
If you think that KUBO is done developing the now-15-year-old Ultra-Clima greenhouse, think again. In the coming years, the Ultra-Clima greenhouse will continue to make a valuable contribution to innovations in the greenhouse industry.
For more information:
KUBO Greenhouse Projects