One of the most critical tools a grower has in successfully building or retrofitting a greenhouse is the relationship with his supplier. For this issue, Greenhouse Grower reached out to several greenhouse manufacturers and asked them about some of the biggest trends they are seeing in the projects they are involved in, as well as some of the main issues growers are dealing with.
Q: What are the primary concerns you are hearing from your grower customers when it comes to their structures needs, and how is your company helping them address these concerns?
Will Kacheris, GrowSpan: The largest concerns we see from our growers are usually controlling humidity and dealing with building codes from their local jurisdictions. We have addressed these concerns by involving multi-stage ventilation plans coupled with powerful climate controllers and having engineers on staff to work closely with our customers’ building departments for custom solutions, not relying on pre-made kits.
James Parris, Stuppy: Growers’ budgets continue to get tighter each year for expansions. So cost is becoming their biggest concern while still trying to get the biggest bang.
Leigh Dodd, The Greenhouse Company of South Carolina: Growers are concerned about snow and wind loads. The Greenhouse Company’s greenhouses are engineered and certified to meet growers’ needs and local codes for snow loads and wind.
Greg Ellis, Nexus/Rough Brothers, Inc.: It depends on which market you are referring to. In traditional markets (bedding plant and ornamental), the growers who are expanding are generally the larger operations. Much of this expansion is currently being done through acquisition of existing structures from companies that have gone out of business. For those that are building new, the trend seems to be more toward a lighter structure with poly covering and a minimum of equipment to keep costs down. In addition, large quantities of ground-to-ground structures are still being used by many of our customers. We provide a line of both low-cost, gutter-connected houses and ground-to-ground structures to meet their needs. If we were to look at the vegetable, cannabis, or hemp markets, bug screening and positive pressure are very important given the limited amount of chemicals allowed for pest and disease control. Diffused coverings and supplemental lighting are high on the list for these operations, as well. In both, we provide products for sealed or semi-sealed environments and work closely with our vendor partners in providing the best lighting and covering options available.
Rudy Ouwersloot, Paul Boers Manufacturing: Some growers are recognizing the better climate in a taller greenhouse . Some growers are complaining about the aggravation of changing poly on the roofs every four years. It is getting more difficult to find installers to do this work.
W.H. “Buzz” Sierke, Gothic Arch Greenhouses: Our customers today are most concerned about making a sound investment. They want a structure that has strength and durability and is made of quality materials, and they want something that they won’t soon outgrow. Greenhouses that can be added to over time, and structures that will stand up to the stresses of the environment, are what smart growers are looking for. A quality greenhouse helps growers invest in expansion rather than in replacement.
Q: Are most of your growers looking at retrofitting current structures, or are they looking at completely new builds?
Kacheris: Most of our customers have been looking to put up new structures; however, we get more retrofit requests each month.
Parris: Most are looking at retrofits, but the larger growers are looking at expansions to keep up with the demands of the box stores on single supplier programs.
Dodd: Not most, but there is a large number of Jaderloon houses that have outlived the owners and are being sold. The buyers move and reconstruct the house on new sites; some new materials are required to complete the houses. The majority of the calls from growers are asking for quotes on new houses.
Sierke: We have a good mix of both. Many growers and university research facilities choose to retrofit existing structures that simply need an update, but we also speak with many growers who are new to the business and growers who need to start fresh with a better-quality greenhouse than what they started with. It isn’t easy to choose your first greenhouse, so we ask a lot of questions to help fine tune what structures will be the best investment long-term.
Q: What advice can you offer to small to midsize growers who want to upgrade their facilities but may feel they don’t have the necessary resources to do so?
Kacheris: Start with a modular structure, such as a single bay of a gutter-connected greenhouse model, like our S2000, which can then be expanded upon. You can even design the original structure with expansion in mind to make it quick and low cost to grow your business. Having a built-in feature of modular expansion is key to growing aggressively in your market and being able to scale with your market.
Mike Kovalycsik, Stuppy: The smallest improvements or new pieces of equipment incorporated in your greenhouse system can be a huge help. Anything from new poly or recovering old polycarbonate glazed sidewalls and end walls with new covering is a big improvement. Checking exhaust fan motors and fan belts, cleaning unit heaters or boilers, or upgrading to automated controllers can make big difference in your crops’ performance.
Dodd: Start out small with a gutter-connect house. As the business grows, bays can be easily added.
Ellis: We recently completed a remodel of an old fan and pad range. Much of the equipment was in need of repair, the space was typically hot and humid, and what was being grown was not good product given the environment. We removed the fan and pad walls and replaced with rollup curtains. We replaced the roof cover with diffused poly and gable and side covering with diffused polycarbonate. The result was a more pleasant environment for the plants and people. Crops being grown in this facility today are compact, shock resistant, and consistent in size and quality. All of this was done at a fraction of what a new build would cost.
Ouwersloot: First look for labor saving in moving the product in the existing facility. With those cost savings in place, expansion will have a faster payback.
Sierke: The strategy we most often utilize to help growers achieve expansion is to look at long-term goals in three phases. Starting with a quality structure you can add to over time allows you to start seeing profit from your initial investment before moving to the next phase. Start with a single bay and manual systems, then expand and update at a rate that is comfortable for you.
Q: In general, how is greenhouse structure technology evolving to better address grower needs?
Kacheris: In the ten years I have been in the industry, the two largest changes have been LED lighting and computer control technology. Color-changing grow lights with custom lighting recipes were novel technology when I started as a lettuce picker; nowadays, they are available online and easy to use. Also, the pricing for light-emitting diode (LED) grow lights has gone down to a level where we see some realistic return on investment timetables in low light areas with heavy use. Computer control systems have had a similar trend, especially with the remote monitoring that is now common and the price for more accurate sensors is available to a much larger marketplace.
Kovalycsik: It seems like requests for gutter heights just keep getting higher, and we have more inquiries about the use of diffused polycarbonates and polyethylene. Diffused light definitely helps with customer comfort, better cooling, and less shadowing in the canopy of the plants.
Dodd: We have incorporated the strength of our larger greenhouses and scaled it for smaller growers just getting into the ornamental and food production industry.
Ellis: It is evolving in virtually every aspect, whether it’s taller sidewalls for a more stable environment and room for more automation; through coverings and the use of diffused poly, polycarbonates, acrylic and glass; through controls and their ability to better manage the various climate conditions for a specific crop; through various new forms of heating, cooling, and dehumidification; and the ability of suppliers to provide all these components and installation in one complete package.
Sierke: There is so much new technology available for growers interested in sustainability and lowering overall operation costs. Solar photovoltaic greenhouse glass, for example, actually generates clean electricity, and there’s a new breed of these that are light wavelength selective. These panels convert blue and green light waves into red and magenta light, which stimulates photosynthesis. It is truly amazing technology, and is remarkably cost-effective.
Q: Is there any other trend in greenhouse structures you’d like to highlight?
Ellis: We would be remiss not to mention the impact the legalization of cannabis and hemp has had on greenhouse suppliers and the industry in general. It has forced us to be better marketers, designers, and grower consultants. We have improved at providing a complete package of materials, installation, and general contracting. It has enabled us to be better at what we do and has provided many new opportunities for all our old traditional suppliers, created new ones, and given new life to an industry that was struggling.