Indoor Ag-Con Offers Glimpse at the Promise of New Greenhouse Technology
Horticultural technology has made some significant leaps over the last few years, and that trend has been accelerating in recent months. We’ve certainly seen this in the controlled environment greenhouse space for ornamental growers. But other crops and production systems are driving innovation as well.
The Greenhouse Grower team attended Indoor Ag-Con in Las Vegas this spring to dig a little deeper into technologies taking off in the indoor production space. The focus of Indoor Ag-Con is relatively horizontal, with content that can apply for growers in greenhouses, warehouse spaces, and container farming. This year’s event added cannabis-focused programming for the first time, but its primary mission continued to be technology supporting production of a variety of crops in hydroponic, aquaponic, and aeroponic systems.
“Indoor” Technology for Your Greenhouse
While a controlled environment greenhouse still offers less-expensive access to natural sunlight and ventilation, the cost of technology for the indoor space, like warehouses, is becoming more affordable as well. Advances in LED lighting, for example, are rapidly dropping the cost for fixtures. But they also have the potential for additional benefits for growers looking to serve new targeted market niches, said Blake Lange, Development Manager for Signify (formerly Philips Lighting).
“Dynamic LED lighting can enhance different qualities of products in indoor production of food crops. You can use stresses to enhance vitamin content, aromas, taste, or color. We can create lighting recipes and steer these things to match up with what chefs or consumers want to pay for,” he said.
There was a lot of discussion at Indoor Ag-Con about topics we already hear about in more advanced greenhouse production these days: automation, robotics, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT). But, according to Nick Genty, CEO of AgEye Technology, if we’re focusing our attention on these technologies individually, we may already be falling behind the curve. The future is how they will work together. The next step, he said, is not AI, or IoT, but AIoT — taking connected devices and adding intelligence to them.
“I have seen estimates that there will be 55 billion IoT devices in use by 2025, and 80% of IoT projects will include some artificial intelligence,” Genty said.
High-Tech Isn’t the Only Way
You don’t have to be that far along the curve to take advantage of new tech, particularly in light of the labor pressures nearly every grower is feeling. Automation of some kind, whether it’s a basic greenhouse conveyor or a planter utilizing robotics and machine learning, is getting to be a must. You just need to match the proper technology to your needs.
“You have to know what you want to grow and how you want to grow it. Then you can make mechanization decisions,” said Gene Giacomelli, former Director of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center at The University of Arizona.
And that doesn’t always mean robotic solutions, he said.
“Mechanization can be cost-effective. Just taking the plant from the growing area and bringing it to the workspace can make a lot of sense,” Giacomelli said.
The Greenhouse Grower team will be on the road in the coming months, learning and sharing more of these solutions and technologies. That includes our own event, Growing Innovations, November 13-14, 2019 in Las Vegas, NV.
That’s one you definitely won’t want to miss.