Plant is King at Artechno Group

Interview with CEO Marco van der Velden

Marco, you got recently appointed as the new CEO of Artechno Group. Congratulations! What does Artechno Group do?

Artechno’s founder Art van Rijn started out as a constructor/provider of technical systems for greenhouses, being born and raised in the Dutch Westland, the birthplace of large scale horticulture. In 2011, the company started to build hydroponic systems for lettuce production and in 2015 our first Automated Vertical Farming concept was developed. Leading Artechno Group, consisting of Artechno Growsystems b.v., Artechno Engineering b.v. and Aqualeap b.v. as a CEO is a privilege. Our overall vision is: Anyone everywhere can be a grower!  

My own roots lie in high-tech mechanical engineering and business administration. To me, the world of horticulture and food production is fascinating, because I feel like we directly contribute to a healthier, more sustainable planet by using nature as a starting point, and technology as a driving force to further improve production processes all over the world.

What makes your technology successful?

At Artechno Group, we are convinced that everything we do, make and innovate, starts with the plant. All our technology is plant-focused. What does the plant need? By answering that question we are able to work out the technology needed for a certain crop.

Plant research is our starting point and carried out in-house by our own agronomy department. That research is tested and validated in our own cultivation research & demo facility. Only when we can assure that a crop can be produced successfully in our systems, we continue to make it into a business case. This business case will then be presented to a client; he or she then gets a proven success case with validated crops. At this point, we are able to provide clients with successful business cases regarding the production of lettuce, microgreens, herbs and leafy greens like arugula and spinach. And we are working towards strawberries, all kind of young plants and several fruit crops like tomato and sweet pepper.

What is also extremely important for a successful implementation of our technology is that seed producers keep on developing their seeds to make them suitable to grow in a closed, controlled environment.

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Vertical farming is currently under pressure, certainly in Europe, because of the high energy prices. What is your opinion on this?

The shakeout that is taking place now, is only partly based on the high energy prices. We are convinced that if you don’t focus on the plant you cannot develop the necessary technology to be successful.

If you engage in vertical farming, but focus only on your technology, it is hard to get to a profitable business case. More than eight years ago, Artechno Group already articulated the vision that with less energy, less labor and precisely by using robotization and data collection, a new vertical farming system could be created. As a result of this strategy, the Automated Vertical Farming+ concept (AVF+) was born. This is an automated vertical farming system where both operational and investment costs (Opex and Capex) ensure that our customers successfully operate their AVF+ system. With this AVF+ system, we have a grip on the business case, even in times when energy prices are rising.

In regular horticulture it is sometimes difficult to find and retain young talent, how is Artechno doing this?

To be honest, we don’t have problems yet finding the right people to fill our vacancies, but we do see that young people, however passionate they are, also attach importance to their off-time. They also like to travel and find it important to create a more flexible working environment for themselves. At Artechno Group, we are fortunately able to create such environment and that’s a real win-win for everybody involved.

Artechno Group is contributor to EatThis. We try to connect horticulture closer to society. Why is that important for your company?

We feel that the innovative and high tech contributions of the horticultural sector towards overall food production is really not visible to the consumer, or even to politicians and decision makers. We therefore find it important to highlight what we can really do and how, putting the spotlight on the production of high quality food crops, on food safety and also on profitability. We strive to innovate more and better to keep on improving sustainable food production. To that end, we’re convinced that if others tell our story, the impact will be much greater than what we can achieve on our own or even as sector together.

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Artechno Group is active all over the globe, but what are your focus countries or regions and why?

Our current focus lies on Europe, North America and the Middle East, but we also see enormous potential in the Nordic region, and countries like Japan and China, and countries that deal with a fast growing population. We concentrate on markets that would like to become (more) self-sufficient and provide high quality, healthy food to their local consumers. In those markets, we set up local branches, so that we can provide direct services and knowledge to our customers.

What does the future look like for Artechno Group?

In 5 years from now, I reckon that Artechno Group, as a turn-key supplier, provides the global standard technology when it comes to automated vertical farming systems. Our AVF+ system will be the leading closed system and our main markets will be Europe, North America and the Middle East. I look forward to work towards this goal with a team of passionate people that keeps on innovating when it comes to the sustainable production of healthy food.

This interview is part of our Inside Out series of in-depth interviews with our contributors. Follow us on Instagram or Twitter for updates!