Automation Domination: Robotic Hydroponic Lettuce Farm in Belgium

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automated lettuce

Today we look at an automated hydroponic lettuce farm in Belgium.

The steady march of industrial automation continues to envelop the world. Many of us have a quaint early 20th century vision of agriculture, but the truth is that the farmer of the 21st century is a machine. Case in point: lettuce. With new hydroponic techniques, companies are able to grow lettuce in large indoor fields where crops are sorted, planted, and grown automatically. Robots are instrumental to all steps of the process. Don't believe me? Check out the video below. It shows the day to day automation for a hydroponic farm in Belgium. Those bots seem to have a pretty green thumb.

Don't worry about the sound, and feel free to skip around a bit. This video is cool, but automated farms aren't exactly the most high speed endeavors in the world. [Insert joke about robots watching the grass grow.]

While I'm unsure of the exact location of the farm, I can tell that the robotics systems used are from Hortiplan, a horticultural automation company based out of the Netherlands. The hydroponic rows you see being filled and maneuvered are part of their Mobile Gully System. The MGS not only plants the lettuce and arranges it in the field, it also moves the crop along as it develops, and delivers it to the right part of the greenhouse for harvest. That picking is done by hand. You can see some (mediocre) clips of the process on the Hortiplan YouTube channel.

Hydroponics and automation seem to go together very well. Hortiplan's MGS uses what's known as the nutrient film technique. Essentially, the gullies (trays) have a very thin layer of nutrient rich water flowing through them. That water is pumped to one end of the field and then flows downhill (there's a very slight slope on the trays). Lettuce is continually watered, slowly moved across the field by the MGS, which also increases the spaces between gullies so the plants have room to grow. By the time they reach the far end they're ready for harvest.

The nutrient film technique, and various levels of automated lettuce production, have been around for years, but they haven't really reached the public consciousness. So few of us stop to think about where our food really comes from. Industrial agriculture is just another soldier in the automated legion that is changing the way we produce practically everything. As it continues to march on, we'll see more crops like the Belgium lettuce that can be grown with less labor and less resources. Hopefully they will be leveraged to create more food and less hunger all over the world. Awesome! When was the last time you were this excited by lettuce?

Actually, don't answer that, I'm not sure I want to know.

[image credit: Hortiplan]

[source: Hortiplan]

Discussion — 13 Responses

  • Guest February 1, 2011 on 12:27 am

    “less labor and *fewer* resources”

  • Dbfact February 1, 2011 on 4:48 am

    Beneficial soil organisms, trace minerals, etc- cannot possibly be the same from a health/nutrition perspective

  • Ivan Malagurski February 1, 2011 on 5:10 am


  • Joey1058 February 1, 2011 on 6:45 pm

    This is the perfect setup for big city high rise farming. This could be any building in Brussels right now, and no one would be the wiser.

  • Cdford90 February 1, 2011 on 8:29 pm

    This is what we should be doing here in the U.S, instead of leting in hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants every year.

  • Gmike555 February 2, 2011 on 3:59 am

    its technologies like this that prove that a resource based economy could be realized in the next 30 years

    • chopinzman Gmike555 August 15, 2011 on 3:18 pm

      Food could be made cheap enough to be a public resource, reducing the need for welfare, food banks, imports. Prove that it can be done with housing, and workers displaced by robotics will be content, if robots replace the lower class, the lower class can be elevated to middle class.

  • Frédéric Schamp February 7, 2011 on 7:28 pm

    i heard some people speak west-flemish … , twhe west part of flanders, flanders being the upper part of belgium, the country that within ten days will be the country the longest without any government, bye bye belgium

  • dr doodo February 9, 2011 on 1:26 am

    @dbfact: Although I doubt the customer is doing this, there is nothing stopping you from using 100% organic nutrients with all the bennies in a hydroponic system. In fact, it’d be perfect for a large scale aquaponics system.

  • Anonymous February 12, 2011 on 1:51 am

    Avidly awaiting the inclusion of aquaculture into this marvelous food producing system! If mankind is very careful, and controls corporatism, capitalism to his advantage, with scientific and technological advances, Solar, Wave, Wind Hydro, Tidal, Geothermal and Nuclear power, and careful genetic selection of reproducers, we may reach a sustainable population of reasonable(smaller) physical size, and considerably higher intelligence. Expect this new Master Race to be vegan. They will conquer from Asia where they are already being artificially bred, much as the American worker was once bred from European stocks. This time, the larger population of Asia is being used as source, the hungry communist Chinese are the breed-misters, and quite evidently the Americans have fallen far behind in every field, since this process began in Asia. beware the great hulking American neanderthal of recent (last two hundred years) breeding experimentation by his corporatist, capitalist masters! This monster, created for the rapid, inexpensive exploitation of America’s natural resources, now languors in unemployable lines, in tent cities, in slums, Shanty towns and the like, no longer needed by his breeders and displaced by his society. Perhaps, off grid and these newer food technologies can keep him from extinction.

    • SaintWells May 7, 2011 on 12:15 pm

      The master race is vegan !
      We can live with the the land , not of the land.
      Sex is a important factor in any relationship , as is in ours with mother nature , but rape is a questionable and undesirable method which does not produce mutual satisfaction.

  • SaintWells May 7, 2011 on 12:10 pm

    As a do not need to know basis , as a youngster I was quite turned on by lettuce , something I could cultivate in a small container , dominate and enhance with flavor in the growth process.
    This is the direction and path of the future as most survivors will be or become vegans , unless you gonna live with the cow-shit and pig-snort on your veranda , so to speak.
    I still can not get the fact that humans underestimate the vulnerability of this here planet they live on and rape daily.Sex plays a important part in any ecology , but thats healthy6 sex.
    Lastly , vegans suffer less and cure faster , have higher resistance and more stable bio-chemistry.
    As someone once asked , ” If you do not eat meat , what do you have in bed , a pumpkin ? ”
    ” Alas , my long lost son ! ” I replied.

  • jaybi April 7, 2013 on 4:28 am

    seeing these videos really implies that you can actually plant different kinds of plants nowadays with less human effort. more about lettuce hydroponic farming? click this