Alternative Heating Guidelines

Many growers use unit heaters that are most often fueled by liquid propane (LP) gas in individual greenhouses. Conversion to alternate fuel sources is not a ready option. Therefore, compare the costs from different fuel providers in your area and choose the best deal available. Maximize greenhouse efficiency in terms of space utilization and energy conservation practices. Consider upgrading the combustion equipment in existing unit heaters. The increased efficiency may pay for itself.

Alternative Fuels

With significant increases in the per-unit cost of natural and LP gases, many growers have evaluated alternative fuel sources. Some growers who had previously “upgraded” to natural or LP gas furnaces still had working oil, wood or coal-fired furnaces or boilers connected to their greenhouses, and they switched back to those fuel sources.

When considering alternative fuels, growers should compare unit costs of fuels. Remember to compare apples to apples. In other words, look at all fuel sources on a cost-per-heating equivalent (e.g., dollars per million BTUs).

Growers should also consider the dependability of the fuel source. Make sure sufficient quantities of an acceptable quality fuel will be available when needed.

In addition to actual fuel costs, calculate the cost of converting to the new heating system and the labor involved in operating the new system. Remember, coal and wood-fired boilers or furnaces require additional labor investments and you will also need a means to dispose ashes.

Alternative Heating Systems

Many growers have also considered changing the primary heating system. Alternatively, growers should evaluate the efficiencies of different heating systems and consider using combinations of different types of heating systems for the greenhouse. Evaluate the newer, more energy-efficient heating systems to determine the payback period for individual operations. It may be worth the investment.

In addition, growers should consider adding higher efficiency bench or floor heating systems in root zones of areas that require higher temperatures, such as propagation or seedling and plug production areas. These systems consist primarily of electric cable or mat systems for small-scale implementation. For larger areas, hot water piping – on or under benches or in the floor – provides excellent growing conditions for roots while reducing air temperatures. In general, less-than-optimum temperatures have a greater effect on plant roots than on plant shoots.

Regarding hot water boilers, modular, low-mass boilers that are very energy efficient are now available for individual greenhouse heating. They heat smaller amounts of water combined with the more efficient heat delivery capacity of aluminum pipes, fins and plastic tubing. Hot water heat provides gentler, more uniform heat than hot air heaters.

Hot water unit heaters are a factor, as well. Improvements in efficiency in heat exchangers and low-volume tubing have increased the efficiency of these units as well.

Changing Growing Practices

It is logical that reducing the greenhouse temperature, especially at night, would reduce heating costs. In fact, reducing the night temperature by just one degree can reduce a greenhouse heating bill by 2 to 3 percent. So, how low can we go? Greenhouse temperatures affect plant growth and flowering. In particular, they affect the time required to finish the crop. Be aware some plants are more sensitive to lower temperatures and may cease to grow when a base temperature is met. This base temperature is lower for cool-season crops than for warm-season crops. In addition, growth is more strongly affected as the temperature approaches that base temperature.

Also, be aware that lowering the greenhouse temperatures can cause additional disease problems. You may want to run plants at optimum temperatures until the roots reach the edges of pots. Then, lower the temperatures and run the plants drier to prevent root rot. Avoid overcrowding and provide horizontal air movement to ensure uniform temperatures and dry foliage. Use temperate irrigation water in the morning so the medium warms up faster and there is better nutrient uptake.

Recovering Costs

Whereas fuel costs normally account for about 7 to 10 percent of the costs of production, in the 2000-2001 heating season that cost was close to 20 to 25 percent of the total. Most greenhouse growers’ profit margins are less than 10 percent. So how can growers recover the “loss” of this much money? First, growers must recognize that in order to stay in business, they must recover at least some of these costs. Very few growers are financially able to absorb these costs and remain in operation. This industry is traditionally one of the last to raise prices or add surcharges to their products, but it is an option.

As fuel costs increase, the costs of pots, plastics, chemicals, fertilizers and media components also increase. Availability issues of some fertilizer sources also contribute to increased input costs.

Growers must know their costs of production. Put pencil to paper and calculate all the costs. Develop a budget for the greenhouse operation and specific seasonal crops that will allow determination of the likelihood of making a profit and allow determination of the break-even points. This will allow the grower to determine the relationship between the minimum volume sold and the minimum selling price per flat.

Dr. Forrest Stegelin, Extension agricultural economist at the University of Georgia, prepared an enterprise budget for bedding plants. Based on that budget, he calculated the expected results of changes in different factors of production. For example, a 1 percent increase in the utility rate for heating with natural gas decreased profit by 2 percent. However, a 1 percent increase in the selling price of a flat of bedding plants will increase profit by 16 percent. Or, a 10 percent increase in the selling price of a flat will increase profit by 160 percent.

In many cases, growers are not comfortable adding a price increase sufficient to recover significant increases in fuel costs. In other cases, prices were set for many customers prior to the fuel crisis and growers wanted to honor those commitments.

Therefore, many growers across the country added fuel surcharges to their product prices. After doing the cost of production calculations, several growers found that adding a fuel surcharge to everything they sold during the spring would reverse their losses and restore a profit. They passed the fuel charges on to their customers, who in turn passed it on to the consumer. Economists tell us that most consumers do not remember what they paid for plants last year and are not likely to notice a 50-cent increase per pot. Growers must determine their costs and plan how to recover excessive costs due to high energy costs so they can afford to stay in business.

Leave a Reply

More From Plant Culture...
crider-rd2-internal_Rough-Brothers_featured

July 1, 2015

Rough Brothers Is Acquired By Gibraltar Industries

RBI Solar Inc., Rough Brothers Manufacturing Inc. and affiliates have been acquired by Gibraltar Industries, a manufacturer and distributor of products for residential and industrial markets, for $130 million. Capitalizing on its 80 years of design-build experience and leadership as the largest greenhouse manufacturer in North America, Ohio-based RBI has established itself during the past five years as North America’s fastest-growing provider of photovoltaic (PV) solar racking solutions. The transaction will enable Gibraltar to leverage its expertise in structural metals manufacturing and materials sourcing to meet global demand for solar racking solutions. The company also announced that it anticipates its second-quarter 2015 financial results will be in line with its previous expectations. “Acquiring RBI is an important step in the transformation of Gibraltar into a company with a higher rate of growth and best-in-class financial metrics,” says Gibraltar CEO Frank Heard. “This acquisition directly aligns with key end markets and product platforms […]

Read More

June 30, 2015

Opportunities Abound For Women In Horticulture, Says Dosatron International’s Lela Kelly

My love for horticulture goes back to my grandparents who were farmers in upstate New York. My family’s involvement in agriculture left a lasting impression that has spanned decades, and still drives my passion for our industry today. I started my career in horticulture when I owned a greenhouse, nursery and garden center in Sayville, Long Island, N.Y. We specialized in ground cover production, later branching out to producing perennials and bedding plants.     I then went onto wholesale hard goods distribution. In the 1980s, I was the first woman salesperson on Long Island. What an eye opener that was! New York is a very special place, different from anywhere else in the country. You cannot imagine how difficult it was walking into greenhouses and nurseries as a woman, in a man’s world. Luckily, I grew up in New York City in an Italian family, who taught me great […]

Read More
Medal of Excellence Award

June 30, 2015

Get To Know The 9 Variety Finalists For Editor’s Choice And Industry’s Choice Awards

Greenhouse Grower‘s Evening Of Excellence reception is rapidly approaching. Here, you can learn more about the varieties that are finalists for the Medal Of Excellence Editor’s Choice and Industry’s Choice Breeding Awards. Thank you to the 2015 sponsors of Greenhouse Grower‘s Medal Of Excellence Awards, Landmark Plastic, Nufarm and Stockosorb. Editor’s Choice Asclepias ‘Monarch Promise’ (Hort Couture) Basil ‘Balsamic Blooms’ (EuroAmerican Propagators) Celosia ‘Dragon’s Breath’ (Sakata Seed) Dianthus Jolt Series (PanAmerican Seed) Salvia Grandstand Series (Green Fuse Botanicals) Scabiosa ‘Kudos Pink’ (Hishtil Nurseries) Industry’s Choice Basil ‘Balsamic Blooms’ (EuroAmerican Propagators) Bidens BeeDance Series (Suntory Flowers) Celosia ‘Dragon’s Breath’ (Sakata Seed) Dianthus Jolt Series (PanAmerican Seed) Lobelia ‘Starship Deep Rose’ (Kieft Seed) Vinca Valiant Series (PanAmerican Seed)     Join us Monday, July 13 in Ballroom 2 at the Columbus Convention Center to find out which varieties will receive the coveted awards. The reception begins at 5:15 p.m. and the ceremony […]

Read More
Latest Stories
cannabis, marijuana plant

June 27, 2015

Concern Grows Over Unregulated Pesticide Use On Cannabi…

As most growers know well, the federal government regulates all insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and other commercial chemicals used on agricultural crops. Therein lies the problem with use of chemicals on cannabis crops – so far, the feds want nothing to do with legalized marijuana. According to “Concern Grows Over Unregulated Pesticide Use On Cannabis,” a June 17 article on the National Public Radio (NPR) network by Agribusiness Reporter Luke Runyon, the lack of regulated chemicals for cannabis has left growers to experiment on their own. “In the absence of any direction the subject of pesticide use on the crop has just devolved to whatever people think is working or they think is appropriate,” said Colorado State University Entomologist Whitney Cranshaw in the NPR report. “Sometimes they’ve used some things that are appropriate, sometimes unsafe.” Denver officials held tens of thousands of marijuana plants earlier this year due to safety concerns, but […]

Read More
Great-spangledFritillary

June 16, 2015

The Butterfly Effect: Insect’s Wings Key To Azalea Poll…

A researcher from North Carolina State University (NC State) has found that in the case of the flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum), all pollinators are not created equal. In fact, due to the flower’s unique reproductive structure, butterflies — and specifically, their wings — are the key to pollination. The flame azalea is commonly found in the Appalachian Mountains, ranging from as far north as New York to Georgia in the south. Like most azaleas, the flowers are large, and have an unusual structure: both the anther (male) and stigma (female) parts are very elongated and separated from one another. NC State biologist Mary Jane Epps was interested in how the azalea’s flower structure affected its pollination. “In order for a plant to reproduce, a pollinator — usually an insect — has to spread the pollen from the anther to the stigma,” Epps says. “In the case of the flame azalea, […]

Read More
Bee on a Sedum

March 17, 2015

4 Key Pollinator Research Projects To Be Funded By Hort…

The Horticultural Research Institute will grant $125,000 in financial support for four key projects as part of the Horticultural Industry Bee & Pollinator Stewardship Initiative. The Initiative has three primary goals. First, to convene a task force to develop a bee and pollinator stewardship program, including creation of best management practices for plant production. Second, to identify and fund research that will help answer key science questions and fill gaps needed to design and refine the stewardship program. Third, to seek to positively position the horticultural community and its customers by collaborating with other compatible groups interested in augmenting pollinator habitat and protection.

Read More

March 11, 2015

Pollinator Initiative Promotes Bee-Friendly Talking Poi…

AmericanHort and the Society of American Florists are working tirelessly with the ornamental industry's Pollinator Stewardship Initiative on a number of new projects.

Read More

February 11, 2015

Infusion Technology Boosts Seed Performance, Study Sugg…

Seven-year-old wheat seed germination can increase by as much as 83 percent, according to a Vital Force Technology Study that looks at the effects of energy infusion technology on plant vitality.

Read More

February 3, 2015

American Floral Endowment Accepting Research Pre-Propos…

If you are pursuing a floriculture research project, now is the time to apply for funding through the American Floral Endowment. Research pre-proposal applications for 2015-2016 funding are due to AFE by June 1, 2015.

Read More

January 27, 2015

Marijuana’s Trajectory And Ascent To Horticultural Cr…

Marijuana growing is poised for change as growers and researchers focus on improving production practices.

Read More

December 9, 2014

Greenhouse Production: Two Years Of Basics & Beyond…

Greenhouse Grower's Basics & Beyond articles cover some of the latest news and research going on in greenhouse production. Here are article links for the last two years.

Read More
GrowIt! App Wins Gold At Design100 2014 US Mobile & App Design Awards

November 24, 2014

GrowIt! App Wins Gold At Design100 2014 US Mobile &…

The social garden app GrowIt! takes the Gold Winner award at the design100 2014 Mobile & App Design Awards.

Read More

November 10, 2014

The Perennial Farm Joins HGTV HOME Plant Collection

The Perennial Farm joins the HGTV HOME Plant Collection growers' network for 2015.

Read More
AmericanHort

November 4, 2014

AmericanHort Publishes Revised American Standard For Nu…

AmericanHort announces the revised American Standard for Nursery Stock (ANSI Z60.1) is now available for industry use. The Standard reflects the consensus of the industry regarding how nursery stock — living plants other than annuals — should be specified and sold within the trade.

Read More

September 26, 2014

Master The Art Of Watering

Watering is elemental to healthy plants, but one of the hardest concepts for new employees to master in the greenhouse. Recommend these tips to start them off right.

Read More

September 16, 2014

Ball FloraPlant’s Las Limas Facility Provides Gro…

Ball FloraPlant’s Las Limas farm in Esteli, Nicaragua, is one year away from full production, but sales and quality from the two-year-old facility are right on track.

Read More
Erysimum 'Cheers' from Darwin Perennials

September 15, 2014

Darwin Perennials Takes Production Offshore In Bogota, …

With its recent purchase of a farm in Colombia, Darwin Perennials is ready to amp up supply of its perennial genetics, to provide growers with tried-and-true varieties and comprehensive production specifications.

Read More

July 23, 2014

Plan Now To Prevent Bract Edge Burn On Poinsettias

Reduce fertilizer and water, and allow your poinsettias to develop slowly during the final four weeks of production to avoid bract edge burn.

Read More

July 11, 2014

Growing Your Crops Above Their Base Temperature

Lowering temperature set points in the greenhouse may help you combat rising heating costs.

Read More

May 1, 2014

Growers Report Nutritional Problems On Geraniums

In recent weeks, several growers have contacted Michigan State University Specialists about leaf discoloration on geraniums, especially the purpling of lower leaves.

Read More

April 22, 2014

How Two Postharvest Care Products Worked On Potted Plan…

What your potted plants look like at retail translates to sales or fails. North Carolina State University researchers report on how two postharvest care products performed.

Read More