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Precision pioneer in iceberg lettuce and celeriac

Ton Moors was one of the first Dutch vegetable growers to start using GPS-guidance in 2004. Ever since, he’s been carrying out precision experiments and helping colleagues getting started. He recently adopted controlled traffic farming and hopes it will help him to increase lettuce production by 5-10%.

Ton Moors farms on 130 hectares in the north-west of the Netherlands. Apart from growing iceberg lettuce (50 ha) and celeriac (40 ha), he also grows 40 hectares of seed potatoes.

Behind the farmhouse are barns for storing and sorting potatoes, while the shed houses wide-track tractors and machinery. Trays of celeriac plugs are laid outside waiting to be planted.

2 hectares of iceberg lettuce planted every week

From early March until the first week of August, Mr Moors plants around 2 hectares of iceberg lettuce every week, covering a total of 50 hectares. What is unique about the farm is that it has been growing crops in wide beds for 9 years. Another characteristic is that Mr Moors is one of the few remaining non-affiliated growers, maintaining his own trade contacts. “Sure, it’s time-consuming, but it broadens my perspective.”

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Mr Moors began growing in 3m-wide beds when he invested in a self-propelled sprayer. Now, all his tractors are rebuilt to 3m track widths. - Photos: Lex Salverda
Mr Moors began growing in 3m-wide beds when he invested in a self-propelled sprayer. Now, all his tractors are rebuilt to 3m track widths. - Photos: Lex Salverda

Flying machines

The region’s iceberg lettuce growers already attracted attention many years ago due to their arable-like approach, and what makes Mr Moors special, is his wide harvester with booms like wings. The colossal structure is covered with a white tarpaulin and can only be moved using a low-loader. Five Polish and 12 Romanian workers are employed to cut the lettuce every day and bag them on-site.

“Boxes come along the top and the full ones are transported to the centre of the machine where they are stacked,” explains Mr Moors. “They are unloaded manually and placed on a pallet. Unfortunately, we were unable to automate that last step.”

From 80 to 50 hectares

Since Ton Moors began running the farm alone after the departure of his uncle Peter, the acreage has shrunk from 80 to 50 hectares. “Towards summer, we were cutting 3 cart-loads per day, with 9,800 heads per cart. Later, that reduced to 2 carts per day.” A calculation shows that around 2 hectares are being harvested per week.

Controlled traffic farming

Mr Moors began growing in 3m-wide beds when he invested in a self-propelled sprayer. It enabled the total number of plants per hectare to increase by 8% to 82,000, and he built an eight-row planting machine “The tracks and the larger width allow us to retain the soil structure as much as possible.”

The distance between rows is 38cm and the plants are spaced about 28cm apart. This is not an exact figure, as with this system, the soil drainage determines how the plants will turn out. The workers use a special shovel to place the plants onto the conveyor in tens. Mr Moors also applies the principle of controlled traffic farming. “The idea is to carry out all of your soil cultivation in the same tracks. Ideally, you should turn the soil instead of ploughing and use the rotary cultivator before planting. The intention is to increase production by 5-10%.”

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Ton Moors was one of the first Dutch vegetable growers to start using GPS-guidance in 2004. He recently adopted controlled traffic farming and hopes it will help him to increase lettuce production by 5-10%.
Ton Moors was one of the first Dutch vegetable growers to start using GPS-guidance in 2004. He recently adopted controlled traffic farming and hopes it will help him to increase lettuce production by 5-10%.

Kverneland six share plough

In practice, he grows lettuce on leased land and is still ploughing for the time being. “We use a Kverneland six share plough, which is able to plough onland and in the furrow. The depth varies between 15 and 30 cm, you might call it an ‘eco-plough’.”

Mr Moors says he can see an effect on growth, specifically because all tractors have now been converted and the soil is turned in the same track as the planting. “The plants now develop more fully. The central rows used to grow slightly better than the rows down the sides.”

He cuts 10 large heads into a box. Anything that is undersized is thrown away. The smaller collapsible crate is used for smaller selections. “This is why we always look for the right locations for sales in boxes. Ideally, I would like a continuous harvest across an entire field, but that’s never yet happened in 25 years.”

Pioneer in vegetables

In 2004, Mr Moors was among the pioneers of precision farming, and he tested out the first GPS-guided tractors. Now, all his farm vehicles have an autosteer system installed. “Since the start, they know to call me whenever they want to carry out experiments.”

Ton Moors:

Producing scans is expensive, so it’s only profitable on your own land

He explains how 3 colleagues bought a drone in order to produce prescription maps for spraying and fertilising, but the project is still in the early stages. The upshot of it is that equipment and/or the procedure requires adjustment, which is quite expensive.

Fertilising on the basis of soil scans

What is applicable in practice, however, is fertilising on the basis of soil scans. “This is a project organised by The Soil Company,” explains Mr Moors. “A higher or lower amount of fertiliser is applied based on the lutum percentage. Producing scans is expensive, so it’s only profitable on your own land.”

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Farmer Ton Moors built himself an eight-row planting machine for iceberg lettuce. “The tracks and the larger width allow us to retain the soil structure as much as possible. The distance between rows is 38 cm.”
Farmer Ton Moors built himself an eight-row planting machine for iceberg lettuce. “The tracks and the larger width allow us to retain the soil structure as much as possible. The distance between rows is 38 cm.”

Airtec nozzles to reduce drift

In order to reduce drift when spraying, he uses Airtec nozzles. Inside the nozzle, spray liquid is mixed with pressurised air, which helps to direct the spray downwards. Another novelty that Mr Moors believes is on the horizon is injection of the adhesive additive Squall in the nozzle in order to increase rainfastness. “This injection system has been developed by Raven Industries. Currently, I still add some Squall to the spray liquid, but it could be more effective.”

This article is a summary. Read the full article in the digital issue of Future Farming!

One comment

  • P VanHam

    For CTF farming on 3 or 3.2 meters, we invented the special MTT Tractor, with adjustable track width! See <>

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