In order to envision where our structure design and technology will go in the future, one really needs to evaluate the history and current state of production facilities in the industry.
Location and climate will continue to dictate the overall design of facilities. Also important is the “labor quotient.” Will a crop demand considerable labor to grow, harvest, pack and ship, or will it be completely automated with equipment that will control uniformity, efficiency and quality control of the product?
Over the past 25 years, we have seen greater automation take place within specifically designed buildings to grow specific crops. This specialization allows the designers to narrow their focus and concentrate on the environment required for that particular crop, unit size produced and the rotation of each crop cycle. These design issues, when combined with light, water, heat and cooling implications on the crop, have and will continue to determine the overall destiny of any growing operation.
Of course, this is a very simplified version of the greenhouse model. However, most production facilities must consider each of these elements in their business plans to be successful. Where they produce, how close they are to their market and definition of their customers will all have a huge impact on what is ultimately designed and built.
Growers around the world are managing their businesses with new challenges every day. Currently, and moving forward, the emphasis is energy consumption. Greenhouse super structures will need to be fabricated from more durable, lighter weight materials that not only capture the heat, but hold it and transfer it to the crop being produced.
Covering materials, whether rigid or flexible, glass or plastic, will be asked to do the same–gather more light as well as capture and redirect that energy. Water retention, treatment and recirculation for crop irrigation will be paramount to success. Engineers and designers have considered alternative sources of fuel and water resource recovery for decades. However, they have not been cost effective. The future of our industry and the ability to grow our sector will be based on a combination of vital issues and concerns.
First, we must convince our current politicians how important our business sector is in regard to green, being green and continued sustainability–whether it’s green food or green ornamentals.
Second, we need to convince those same politicians to provide us with tax credits or tax incentives at the individual and commercial level to design and install alternative energy in our homes and businesses. We have the technology. It must be more affordable.
Third, we need to put a greater emphasis on education and workplace initiatives that demonstrate how important our industry is to students of all ages. We need to ensure growth without compromising our natural resources, so we must attract the brightest minds to join our industry. Increased scholarship and internship opportunities should help create future employees who will share in the spirit of our industry.
Fourth, we must encourage greenhouse growers to incorporate new technologies into their facilities when the opportunity arises. We should build taller, stronger houses that allow for more air volume and maintain greater temperature uniformity. Cover them with IR poly films, triple wall UV polycarbonates or laminated glass to manage heat, light and safety more efficiently and effectively. We should:
- Install screening systems to regulate solar gain during the day and reduce heat loss at night.
- Capture and store water from the roof, as well as inside the facility, and recycle and reuse it for irrigation.
- Incorporate material handling systems that allow growers and their labor force greater efficiency and increased productivity.
- Create opportunities on the property for the incorporation of wind or solar collection and energy collection areas.
- Control these facilities and the associated equipment with the latest in environmental control equipment and weather monitoring devices.
- Capture data generated daily from these operations to allow for better growing practices and continued refinement in each production area.
None of these changes will happen overnight. It is an evolutionary process. Our world and its economies are changing daily, driven by a global marketplace fed by the Internet and devoured by all those that desire to share in these opportunities. Controlled environment agribusiness is continually expanding and will produce challenges and opportunities for all. Those who develop and trial these new technologies have the most to benefit. Food and fuel will be grown in greenhouses at levels not seen on radar several years ago. “Structurally lean” and “culturally green” will be the mantras for the next 25 years.