Since Metrolina Greenhouses purchased Stacy’s Greenhouses in York, SC, in 2013, the operation has continued to develop the property to improve logistics, maximize labor, and capitalize on water retention technology. All of these investments have allowed the No. 6 operation on Greenhouse Grower’s Top 100 Growers list to become more sustainable by extension.
In 2015, the York location installed a 2-million-gallon water retention system on what it calls Farm 4, out of five farms on a 250-acre parcel. The system includes a DRAMMwater ozone system, recirculation pumps, and Argus controls for irrigation and fertilizer control. This past year, Metrolina added a 1.4-million-gallon holding tank, also with Argus controls, to the Farm 4 water retention system, and expanded a 7-million-gallon water retention pond on Farm 3 to 50 million gallons. This larger pond uses 5-micron filters and ozone to clean the recycled water, and pumps to recirculate the water in the holding tank. Farm 3 and Farm 4 are connected by a 12-inch main that will eventually go around the whole operation, connecting all farms together to provide redundancy, according to Metrolina Greenhouses’ Vice President of Operations Thomas VanWingerden.
At press time, Metrolina’s new ponds were fully built, filled with water, the pumps were working, and the DRAMM Ozone System was installed. The farm had just received delivery of its filtering system, which needed to be installed before the water could be pumped through the ozone system, says Chris Copeland, Metrolina’s Director of Forecasting, Purchasing, and Logistics. With leadership from VanWingerden and plenty of experience with water retention, filtration, and ozonation thanks to the operation’s progressive adoption of these technologies at its Huntersville, NC, location, Metrolina’s team can install the filtering system and ozonation equipment on its own, Copeland says.
Building a Closed Loop Water System
Further development of the York location’s water retention system will eventually close the loop between the existing ponds, and new ponds on Farm 2 and what will become Farm 5, a 100-acre parcel acquired last year. Metrolina is currently working with the corps of engineers to plan ahead for the best place to install a retention pond in the lowest spot on that land.
On Farm 2, the plan is to eventually fill in an existing 7-acre pond and move it to the lowest point on the property. This is advantageous because water naturally filters downstream, and because the way the production space is laid out currently, it takes too much time and labor to bring a load of plants up from that 8-acre area. Once the pond is relocated to the bottom of the hill, production will be moved closer to the shipping barn to improve efficiency, Copeland says.
“The round trip time from dock to bottom and back is close to 30 minutes,” he says. “It makes sense to bring mid-season crops closer to the shipping barn, so turn times are faster, and we can get more output for the same labor.”
Ultimately, the operation will have three main water retention ponds, and while the goal to have 100% recycled water is within reach in the next five to 10 years, it may never get to that, as there will always be a need for wells in York, VanWingerden says. The operation is set up so that it can empty its tanks in preparation for a water event like a hurricane, and water plants wirelessly, managed through iPads.