Yves Daoust, the master of strawberries

Yves Daoust, le maître de la fraise

The Winter Strawberry Master

At 22, it was very clear in his head. Yves Daoust felt like an engineer at heart. He then left the family farm in Vaudreuil and the shores of Lac des Deux Montagnes to immerse himself in the world of Polytechnique. Bring on some techno! He ate it and asked for more. Perhaps even more than the market garden products from his father's greenhouses, which is saying something.

At that time, when he looked at the strawberry, no one — not even him! — would have imagined that one day, he would ingeniously combine the red fruit with very advanced computer concepts. However, after many years devoted to communications and artificial intelligence technologies, we have seen the geek return, like a salmon, to spawn on the land where he was born.

Since he founded Winter Farm in 2018, the company's chief technology officer has the largest controlled-environment vertical strawberry farm in the country. On the estate that his father had sold to the Saint-Denis family some 40 years earlier, Yves Daoust had two hanging gardens 20 feet high that could each accommodate 55,000 plants spread over 14 levels. Thus, year after year, instead of producing 10 kg of strawberries per m2 , he obtains a yield of 160 kg per m2 .

Two months ago, the company announced an expansion project valued at $46 million, which will bring the number of its vertical rooms to eight. This will honor the production contract of 25 tonnes of strawberries per week concluded with Sobeys.

When we say of someone that he makes rain or shine, the mythological reference fits Yves like a glove. Thanks to the technologies it orchestrates in its airtight rooms, it can control all the elements that allow an optimal harvest. “ In our vertical rooms, there is no sun, no outside light. We need to create and control lighting, rain, wind, temperature, humidity, pollination, everything, basically. Each of these settings has a dedicated system controlled by IT. Each has its sensors and is interdependent on other devices which all serve the plant. »

It is no coincidence that cultivation is done above ground with gutters, substrate and drip irrigation, exactly like greenhouse production. The concept is intended like this to allow market gardeners not to feel overwhelmed. The idea, on the contrary, is to make their lives easier. No more environmental problems that risk making them lose everything. No more frost, no more drought or hail. Bye! Bye! chemicals that are replaced by biological pesticides. It's not the bees and bumblebees that forage in this Garden of Eden who are complaining.

Thanks to his concept of precision agriculture assisted by artificial intelligence, Yves does not only want to make his technological contribution. He wants to favor farmers economically, at least double the profit margin of market gardeners and, why not, make the profession more interesting for new generations. By controlling the maturity of fruits so that they are not all harvested at the same time, its vertical farms promote the stability of production and secure local supply chains. This allows producers to trade futures contracts that take a lot of pressure off their shoulders.

To avoid spoiling anything, Yves Daoust found the trick of recovering 70% of the heat emitted by the light-emitting diode lighting system in his rooms. A resource that André Saint-Denis uses to heat the greenhouses for which he is responsible on the same property. Their greenhouse tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers will need half as much propane. Who will complain about less GHGs?

As they say in Chinese, 2022 was a period of fine tuning . While room 1 served as a test bench and room 2 made it possible to refine the mechanical components of dehumidification, ventilation, lighting and cooling, Yves is now tackling the improvement of the productivity of his strawberry plants by adjusting the mechanical parameters. And it fascinates him. “ Artificial intelligence is machine learning. We optimize the growth parameters of the plants so that the fruits are good, that they have a good shelf life, a good level of sugar, vitamins, antioxidants that the consumer wants to have to be healthy. »

We bet that before long, many faces will find themselves with a very local red color in their mouth, winter and summer alike! This, it seems, is a necessary step to achieve our food autonomy.

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