Building Strong Structures With X.S. Smith

Barlow Flower Farm lost 10 greenhouses to snow accumulation.

In in the greenhouse design and manufacturing business, you have to keep an eye on the weather. All of X.S. Smith’s customers do too. Success in the green industry is so weather related it can be frightening, and X.S. Smith’s Scott Thompson does what he can to alert and communicate with all of his customers to inform them of potential weather-related issues all year round.

For example, the weather forecasts for the Jersey Shore were not good on Christmas 2011. Predictions called for blizzard conditions and the area was set to receive more than two feet of snow – an unbelievable amount for the region.

When the forecasts began three days earlier, Thompson emailed and called as many of his customers in the Northeast as he could. Thompson and his son, Tyler, asked clients if there was anything they could do to help growers prior to the storm. Most are veterans and have seen heavy snowfall before.

With fuel prices surging and a softer plant market through the holidays, however, many greenhouse growers had taken to shutting down their operations when not in use. The upside is instant savings on fuel and a better bottom line. The downside can be catastrophic damage caused by heavy, unheated snow loads – followed by complete rebuilds.

When the storm hit, it was as bad as Thompson had seen in 35 years. It snowed for 15 hours. He measured 31 inches of snow, and drifts accumulated to eight feet. Fortunately, Thompson still had power, but he was snowed in as the plows were not strong enough to push through. Front end loaders were required to move snow off the roads.

Thompson contacted as many of his customers as possible to get damage reports. Most were mentally and physically stressed but in the end had come through the storm fairly well, all things considered.

Others were not as lucky.

One of the unlucky ones was Stephen Barlow at Barlow Flower Farm in Sea Girt, N.J. Barlow is the general manager at the facility and had been up all night on his skid steer pushing snow at his place and others to remain operational. The farm is a second generation grower/retail operation, producing a wide variety of seasonal flowering potted plants with approximately 70,000 square feet under cover.

Several of his 22-by-96-foot arch-style freestanding greenhouses did not fare well. Because the heat was shut off and northeasterly winds had drifted the snow between houses, Barlow had multiple collapses on the eastern side of as many as 10 of his 32 structures. Four were totaled, but six could be repaired and reused.

On-site inspections revealed snow accumulations eight feet or more solid between houses and pushing hard on the frames. Thompson and Barlow assessed the damage, took action to cut poly coverings to immediately relieve stress on the frames and started to plan and budget for the recovery. Vertical supports could be added to the remaining structures, while a completely new facility was plotted out in the area where the four totaled houses needed to be removed.

The rebuild included wider-span gothic profile greenhouses called Sun Kings. Each of these structures boasted a 30-inch width rather than a 22-inch arch profile. Choosing the Sun King option resulted in a lower cost per square foot for the new buildings, and the steeper pitch roof slope allowed for wonderful snow sliding capabilities. A new building layout would connect the structures to a central loading area that can be covered as the funding and project progresses. The project also includes the addition of Wadsworth environmental controls for equipment operation. All together, these revisions and additions have yielded greater crop uniformity at a dramatically reduced operating cost.

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