About the institute

The Challenge

One of the major global challenges is to feed over nine billion people in a sustainable, safe and healthy way by 2050. This means: we will have to produce “more food in the next four decades than all farmers in history have harvested over the past 8,000 years” (National Geograpic, September 2017). This will happen against a background of mounting shortages of water, arable land and energy, growing cities, and malnutrition and obesity in many parts of the world. At the same time, societal demand for sustainable food production and supply increases and consumers desire safe and high-quality products.

These antagonistic developments call for new and intelligent reforms of our AgriFood production and supply systems in multiple, complimentary ways. One of these appeals to technological innovation and a technology-driven strategy to reform. It requires the horticulture- and agrifood industry and knowledge institutes to collaborate in research and innovation to massively increase agricultural production while decreasing the use of resources such as water and fossil fuels. Much is to be expected from developing, employing and integrating new technologies from highly diverse fields such as Robotics, Sensor physics, Computer Vision, Communication Technology, Geothermal engineering, Material Science, Artificial Intelligence, Genetics, and Crop Modelling. 

The Background

Even though The Netherlands is a small and densely populated country, it has remained a leader in the export of agricultural produce. For instance, more than a third of all global trade in vegetable seeds originates in the Netherlands (CBS, 2017). In total, the Horti- and AgriFood domain represent an economic sector with around euro 90 billion in turnover.

Two decades ago, the Dutch government and producers committed to a sustainable agriculture in which we will produce “Twice as much food using half as many resources” (National Geograpic, September 2017). Much progress has since been made. Dutch producers have reduced dependence on water for key crops by 90% and almost completely eliminated the use of chemical pesticides on plants in greenhouses. In addition, since 2009 Dutch poultry and livestock producers have cut the use of antibiotics by 60%.

Delft University of Technology is surrounded by a dense cluster of R&D facilities, seed companies, growers, farmers and greenhouse technology companies. It is therefore very well positioned to contribute to high-tech innovation in the Horti- and AgriFood domain. The TU Delft is world-leading in technologies that are most relevant for the mentioned intelligent reforms in the AgriFood domain. Think of high-tech sensors and machine learning for climate and energy control of greenhouses, computational biology for phenotyping, smart systems for sustainable use of energy and residual streams, logistics & digital chains for safe and efficient supply chains and robotics for harvesting, sorting ad food-processing, and drones for monitoring pest and diseases, to name a few.

Dutch farmers have become expert in getting the most out of every hectare. Increasingly, they’re doing so sustainably. Raising yields tenfold in two generations, while at the same time using less water, fewer pesticides, less fertilizer and emitting less carbon.

Sir David Attenborough

The Contribution

TU Delft AgTech Institute aims to contribute to innovation in AgriFood technology. It will help to bring engineering knowledge and expertise to the technological challenges of the necessary transition in AgriFood. With support of five TU Delft faculties, and partners such as Rabobank, Innovation Quarter and the Dutch Topsectors Horticulture and Starting Material and Agrifood, the institute has the ambition to build a strong, coherent and complimentary research portfolio. Moreover, it builds on an already significant number of large research programs (4TU Plantenna, 4TU Pride & Prejudice, Flexcraft, Synergia) and an impressive resume of public-private partnerships with leading companies. In addition, the institute participates in various triple helix associations, through which ties will be strengthened with (local) governments, businesses and other knowledge institutions to give direction to collective and individual research, development and education agendas. Through this extensive network, the institute creates added value by acting both internally and externally as a point of contact for expertise in the AgriFood domain.


Management Team

The management team of TU Delft AgTech consists of a Scientific Director and Business Developer. This team is supported by an Academic Board, with representatives of more than 17 research departments within 5 faculties. The management team is responsible for the business development and management of the institute:

Liselotte de Vries

Business Developer

Martin Mul

Business Developer

Mario Peña Pliego

Student Assistant

Roeland van Ham

Scientific Director

Liselotte de Vries, as Business Developer for TU Delft AgTech Institute, aligns collaboration between researchers and the industry. With a MSc in International Development from Utrecht University, a BBA in Int. Business and having worked for UTZ Certified and Sustainable Rice Platform (in Bangkok), Netherlands Water Partnership and now TU Delft, creating crossovers between AgriFood and high-tech systems is her daily ambition. Feel free to contact Liselotte to discuss collaborating with TU Delft’s researchers, students and fieldlabs in the field of AgTech!

Martin Mul, as Business Developer for TU Delft AgTech Institute, aims for a strong, competitive and sustainable agriculture ecosystem by connecting research and industry. After attaining a MSc in Aerospace Engineering, he worked for eight years at an subsidy consultancy firm attracting public funding for innovation projects in the high tech industry. Are you interested in TU Delft’s AgTech research or looking for a partnership in this field, don’t hesitate to get in touch! 

Mario Peña Pliego, as Student assistant at the TU Delft AgTech Institute, bridges the gap between students and industry through student challenges and project collaborations. Expecting to graduate in early 2023 in the MSc Industrial Ecology, he is passionate about the new technologies that can make our agricultural system sustainable. If you are also an ambitious student that wants to create impact in the field of AgTech, contact him to find out about the latest opportunities!

Roeland van Ham received his PhD in Molecular Evolutionary Biology in 1994. Between 1995 and 2002, he held postdoc positions in genomic adaptation in Spain and the UK. In 2002, he joint Wageningen UR, where he was appointed group leader Bioinformatics and part-time associate professor Bioinformatics. In 2011, he was appointed Vice President Bioinformatics and Modeling at KeyGene N.V., an agro-biotech company where he leads an R&D department in the development of computational applications for accelerated crop improvement. Since 2015, he combines his work at KeyGene with an appointment as professor in Plant Computational Biology at the Technical University Delft, and since 2020, with an appointment as Scientific Director of the TU Delft AgTech Institute.

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