Greenhouse Data: Four Types, Many Applications

Bartlett-Instrument-Headgrower-AppData is a word we hear everywhere these days. More data is being collected and stored than ever before. Growers of all types and sizes can collect data with greenhouse environmental controllers. These controllers provide a mechanism to capture and access data about our environment, operations, and more. The data itself is important, but real opportunities exist when that data is applied to our work.

In greenhouse operations, data could be classified as one of four different types of information:  instantaneous data, historical data, and emergency data. This article will discuss each type of data, how it is useful, and give examples of growers and their experience with the different types.

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Instantaneous data consists of feedback on the current status of a greenhouse. For example, the current temperature or humidity level in a greenhouse, whether heating or cooling are currently running in the greenhouse, or current setting of roof vents or side curtains. Instantaneous data can be reassuring when it shows all systems are working properly, but it is most valuable when coupled with remote access.

Ted Goldie, Operations Manager at Matt’s Greenhouse in Fort Madison, IA, remotely accesses information via a Headgrower app to preemptively close roof vents when he knows extreme weather is coming. Others use remote access to do a virtual walk-through of the greenhouses on a cold winter’s night.

Historical data is a collection of instantaneous data over a period of time. It can be broken down into recent history and year-to-year history. Goldie uses recent history to analyze heater run times and rate of temperature gain on the previous night’s graphs. The data allows him to diagnose such things as a faulty heater prior to a catastrophic failure.

“Looking at the past couple days to a week’s worth of data is invaluable to our operation to not only help diagnose plant problems but also notice trends in the environment,” says Brian Krug of Corteva Agriscience (DowDupont Pioneer). “In most cases, we can fix a problem before it gets out of hand.”

Year-to-Year data history is collected and used to evaluate growing conditions and their results for an entire crop. Some examples of this data type would be minimum and maximum temperatures used to grow a particular crop and how effective that range was, run time statistics on heating and cooling appliances, or what parameters were used to grow a particular annual the previous year and should those be repeated in the current year. Growers use this type of data in their long-range planning decisions, such as negotiating fuel contracts or deciding whether heating and cooling equipment needs to be replaced. This data could be compared from house to house, or from site to site.

Emergency data like low temperature alarms, power outages, or communication loss needs your immediate response. Generally, you will receive an alert by text message, a push notification, or a phone call. Again, remote access and mobile apps can be key to using your data, especially the emergency data. It allows you to evaluate the severity of the situation and react remotely, for small adjustments, or escalate to an entire team response for a critical situation.

Greenhouse controls have advanced from low tech thermostats to, now, controls that report data to the cloud. As the Internet of Things (IoT) progresses, data from many types of sensors will be combined and analyzed in the cloud to inform growers of environmental trends, preventive maintenance, energy savings options, and more. Therefore, this information will be valuable to further enhance growing practices as well as allow growers to proactively avoid problematic situations.