Operating a commercial greenhouse can be a deeply rewarding and lucrative career choice, but it also poses certain challenges. Whether farmers have recently made the switch to growing in greenhouses rather than the field or they’re still in the planning phase, it’s worth doing some research to find out how to create an effective plan for maximizing yields and improving crop quality.
Read on to find five tips for how to make the transition to greenhouse growing a success.
1. Keep Up With Current Research and Developments
Anyone who has grown a commercial crop, or even started a backyard garden, knows that all plants need certain things to thrive. In the context of greenhouse management, they include:
- Adequate light
- Plenty of water and nutrients
- Good air quality
- Appropriate temperatures and humidity levels
- Protection from pests
Mastering these fundamentals early on is essential, but it’s not always enough to ensure success in competitive markets. To do that, farmers must pay attention to industry trends and view personal education as an ongoing goal rather than a specific task with a distinct end. There are new advancements not just in greenhouse growing techniques but also in plant science and horticulture every day, so it’s important to stay up to date.
Sites like Agron.io are perfect resources for both commercial and hobbyist growers because they combine useful information and industry updates with a commitment to providing top-quality gear. Take advantage of them.
2. Use Space Efficiently
Proper staging is one of the key components of maximizing efficiency in a greenhouse. Even large commercial greenhouses are more limiting than wide, open fields, so farmers need to consider how much room they’ll need to grow different kinds of crops.
Failing to provide sufficient growing space does more than limit efficiency. It can also restrict plant growth since overcrowded plants must compete for resources. Overcrowding can also cause plant stress, leaving crops more susceptible to damage from pests and diseases.
There are a few ways to deal with overcrowding. The most obvious solution is to thin the crop so each remaining plant has access to more light, nutrients, and water, but that’s not always the best option. Some greenhouse farmers also choose to rotate crops they grow or install hydroponic systems and supplemental lighting.
Though it requires a somewhat substantial initial investment, establishing a vertical farm can be an excellent way to maximize the use of space within a greenhouse. Though most vertical farms are established indoors, often in large warehouses, the same principles can be applied to greenhouse growing. Just keep in mind that doing so will require supplementing light since the lower levels of plants will not receive sufficient sun exposure.
3. Stabilize the Indoor Climate
Every modern greenhouse grower should invest in a climate control system. These systems monitor every aspect of the indoor environment, from heat to humidity and more, and then make adjustments to lighting, irrigation, and ventilation to ensure the plants have an optimal growing environment.
Don’t quite have it in the budget to invest in a fully automated climate control system? There are also individual ventilation, irrigation, and lighting systems that can be installed independently. Alternatively, farmers can take out private or FSA loans to cover the cost of equipment and supplies.
It’s important to keep each crop’s growing requirements in mind when determining climate control needs. Some plants require different temperatures or humidity levels during each phase of growth, for example, while others can benefit from a stable environment throughout their entire growth cycle. Try to choose plants that have similar or identical climate requirements when growing multiple crops in the same greenhouse.
4. Develop a Pest Prevention Strategy
One of the many benefits of greenhouse growing is minimizing pest intrusion. That said, putting the plants under cover won’t necessarily eliminate all pest pressures, so it’s important to have a preventative pest management strategy in place. Most farmers implement a plan that includes multiple preventative strategies, such as:
- Installing screens on all vents and openings, including air intakes.
- Keeping field-grown plants out of the greenhouse.
- Removing plant debris from the greenhouse.
- Lining the ground immediately surrounding the structure with gravel.
- Inspecting every new plant before it enters space.
- Applying heavy-duty plastic to the floor to prevent pests from spreading.
Sometimes, despite a well-implemented pest management strategy, insects or rodents still become a problem. Keep an eye out for signs of pest intrusions and deal with them quickly before they can spread to become full-blown infestations.
5. Maintain Consistent Records
Like all modern industries, agriculture has already benefited significantly from data collection and analysis. Farmers shouldn’t rest on the laurels of industry pioneers, though. They should maintain clear, consistent, and detailed records of their own operations to make it easier to determine what works and what doesn’t.
Maintaining records is especially important for farmers who engage in selective crop breeding or developing new growing processes. It takes time, patience, and access to sufficient data to find optimal lighting, temperature, nutrient, and irrigation levels to develop new techniques or streamline the plant breeding process.
Greenhouse growers can simplify their data collection processes using a combination of automated systems and AI-driven sensors that keep track of things like temperature, soil moisture levels, and air humidity automatically. Most of these systems also allow farmers to import data into other software programs, helping them streamline every aspect of their operations, from ordering seeds and treatments to optimizing nutrient delivery.
Let’s Get Growing
It takes some careful planning to make the switch from field-based crops to a greenhouse operation, but it’s worth the effort. Before investing in new equipment, farmers should establish a clear budget and take the time to really evaluate their crops’ needs and the preferences of their target buyers.
Farmers who are new to greenhouse growing should also plan to reassess their new systems frequently with an eye to both changing industry standards and the results of prior data collection and analysis.