In the past we've talked about retrofitting your greenhouse. When retrofitting your greenhouse is not the answer a new construction expansion may be more what you need. Planning a construction project from the ground up involves a lot of details that you may not deal with on a regular basis. Don’t hesitate to use your greenhouse manufacturer and greenhouse construction company to help you with the planning process. GGS is here to help. Here are a few pointers to help you start:
1. Establish size and allow for future growth
Since building a new greenhouse is generally determined after production demand is assessed, this is the logical first step for establishing the size of the greenhouse footprint. Consider beyond your immediate needs and plan to allow for some future growth as well if possible.
2. Plan for optimum growth
Now consider the environment you need for optimum plant growth, and talk to your GGS rep about how extra under gutter height, additional ventilation, glazing material options, and the different styles of greenhouses can improve or detract from the environment you want.
3. Allow space for expansion of existing facilities and systems
Next you need to look at your existing facilities and systems. What is sufficient for this expansion, and what will require more capacity. This includes shipping bays, warehouse space, office space, environmental controls, and of course the heating system. You should always get a qualified greenhouse heating engineer like Niagrow to review your current greenhouse heating and your expansion plans.
4. Check your regulations
With most greenhouse builds you will need to talk to your local building inspector. Every year more regulations are put in place - make sure that your proposed expansion follows all laws and town regulations. For instance, if your building is too close to your neighbor’s land, you may have to file a variance with the town.
5. Accommodate more warehousing and storage space
If you are expanding your production space, consider that you may need more warehousing and storage space to accommodate this extra yield. Most greenhouse growers ask us to build these areas out of our greenhouse structures. Widespan greenhouses are particularly good for shipping areas.
If all this is starting to sound like too much… we haven’t even gotten into all the greenhouse options. Consider hiring us to project manage your expansion. GGS has been building greenhouses all over the world since 1979. We are here to help.
Back in the summer of 2013 I wrote an article titled What Can I Grow in a Greenhouse? The focus was to highlight some of the unique uses for greenhouses that we have encountered in our 35+ years of helping greenhouse growers grow their businesses. Many of the greenhouse products suggested back then still show promise for profitable growth today, and a few new ones have emerged.
When looking for a profitable growth product one of the signals is increasing market demand. Considering the world population is an aging demographic, products that relate to health will likely continue to grow.
Medicinal herbs like: motherwort which is said to be good for heart conditions; spilanthes is considered an immune system stimulant; calendula, basil, feverfew, German chamomile, echinacea, and ginseng, are just a few of the healing herbs that fit the potential market demand.
Continuing on the topic of medicinal plants, marijuana is all the rage. With the US market currently sitting just under 3 billion dollars and estimates of growth to 5 billion by the end of 2016, it is no surprise that some greenhouse growers are looking to convert their greenhouses to this potentially lucrative crop. Marijuana is a cool crop so marijuana greenhouses require good ventilation, but odor control is also necessary for most marijuana production licenses.
Marijuana is not the only hot medicinal greenhouse plant. Several companies over the last few years have discovered that infusing plants with a virus shows great potential for producing vaccines. Typically a strain of tobacco plant is genetically modified instead of using animal protein. This is known as biosimilar plant production and is not only more cost effective, but also requires a lot less time to market than traditional vaccine production. Biosimilar plant production may require research style greenhouse facilities in order to meet the GMP requirements of the drug companies.
Two more trends in consumer health consumption are the “local food movement” and hydroponics. Greenhouses that are able to capitalize on “close to market” advertising have an opportunity to brand their greenhouse produce as a premium quality food for the health conscious consumer. Likewise hydroponic greenhouse growers are seeing increasing demand from shoppers. We work with the leading hydroponic production companies to provide greenhouses and greenhouse heating systems that maximize efficiencies.
Outside of the health market, immigration is exposing most markets to expanding diverse cultures and this is fueling niche market demands for all kinds of ethnic, and otherwise unique foods. Edible flowers provide vibrant colours to restaurant meal. Many Asian fruits and vegetables can thrive in a greenhouse.
In addition to a worldwide aging demographic, consider regional wealth profiles. Asia, and in particular, China is experiencing a tremendous rise in the middle class. As their buying power increases, so do opportunities for greenhouse producers.
According to the World Bank by 2030 fish farms will need to be able to produce close to two thirds of global fish consumption due to population growth and reduced levels of wild fish. Currently 38 percent of all fish produced in the world is exported, and by 2030 Asia is projected to account for 70% of the world demand for seafood products. By using the greenhouse climate to optimize the growing environment, we have seen aquiculture farms succeed. In North America greenhouse aquiculture typically raise tilapia, or arctic char in combination with a water plant like seaweed. In recent years greenhouse farmed aquiculture crops have also included shrimp, and increasing market demand for seafood could see opportunities for other aquiculture farming. For aquiculture the favorite greenhouse is a Widespan gutter connect greenhouse with tall under gutter heights. This enables good environmental control under a square footage that is capable of housing large production water tanks.
Biofuel is another area with increasing market demand. Algae can now be produced in a greenhouse and as advanced fuel research continues to measure and improve ways to replace fossil fuels, this is an area where specialty growers may thrive.
But the future market growth potential of a greenhouse crop is not the only factor in considering whether it could be profitable for you. More profitable crops for long-term growing typically have higher barriers to entry. Medicinal plants have significant regulations which require specialized growing environments, air filtration, and seed to sale traceability, etc. Quality and consistency are of primary importance so established suppliers will have an advantage as medical producers are going to be resistant to switching to an unknown supplier.
Marijuana currently has extremely high barriers to entry with most government bodies strictly controlling and limiting who gets a license to grow. In Uruguay there are only 5 marijuana cultivation licenses being awarded, in Minnesota it was just two.
When strategically examining crop options you also need to consider your team’s strengths and weaknesses and make sure that you pick crops which complement your organization. Can you easily import knowledge through consultants or new hires where needed? Does the new crop have synergies with your existing product mix, or does it make sense to have an entirely different business venture.
Of course this article is just scratching the surface of possibilities for commercial greenhouses today. If you have experience with any creative greenhouse crops or other uses we would love to read them in the comments below!
Success in business comes down to two things: The strength of your plan or strategy and your ability to execute it; everything else is window dressing. In the words of business consultant and author, Mark Sanborn, “it’s better to be consistently good than occasionally great.” Mark’s mantra can be applied across all lines of business, but has a special meaning for business processes.
Good business processes can lead to great rewards. Followed correctly, they can:
Why then do so many small businesses and midsize enterprises (SMEs) undervalue business processes? According to a report from Circle Research, which questioned 800 global SMEs, only 19% want to achieve business improvement. In addition, less than half want to streamline their business processes, reduce their cost base, or create supply chain efficiencies. On the contrary, 47% of businesses are focused on achieving growth.
My advice for business owners is to focus on what you’re doing now and get that right before branching out. Here are eight more steps to help you run a better, more efficient company.
Change takes time. Sometime it happens quickly; other times change can be painfully slow. Either way, the changes you make in your business should be viewed as an investment of time, resources and manpower; something that should not be decided by a flip of a coin or the winds of fate.
Read the report from Circle Research to find out why ambition matters and how businesses, just like the one you run, are using it to grow their companies.
With spring approaching it’s the perfect time to look at what could help you boost your sales for the upcoming season. But does color sell plants?
A simple answer would be yes and no. But this not much help with deciding what colors you should focus on displaying. Research would suggest a number of reasons why consumers will select certain colors. It could be based on seasonal ideals, so when you think of spring you would generally lean towards pastel muted colors even veering on towards the warmer yellow tones for a splash of brightness; think Easter and daffodils. But what else? There must be other factors that will influence color choices other than the typical seasonal selections. Well there can be, and this is where it gets a little more complicated.
Research will tell you that color selection is often based on personal preference, experiences, upbringing, cultural differences and so forth, often muddying the effect individual colors have on us.
However, if you are to examine the color preferences between men and women, as done in Joe Hallock’s Color Assignments, you get a rough idea of colors that are most universally appealing. Although there are apparent differences between gender choices there are also glaring similarities. For example, both men and women most preferred blue, green, orange and red in similar amounts. The same can be said for least preferred colors between the both being brown, orange and yellow. Another example shows that men prefer bright toned colors whereas women prefer softer toned colors. Obviously this diagram lacks the broad spectrum of colors available in the flowers you could possibly sell, and again it is all down to consumer personal preference.
Another factor that influences color choices is seasons, whether that is the typical colours associated with the season or dependent on the varieties that are available. Most gardeners planning for spring are looking forward to bursts of colors that are uplifting after a cold and dreary winter. Think of those yellow daffodils again!
People like choices. It’s a fact. But too much choice will often overwhelm a consumer, which is why presenting consumers with only the most popular colors is usually the way to go. But it’s still important to provide enough of a selection that people feel like they can express themselves individually.
Even in the floral industry there are trends set for the year of what will be the most popular colors. Consumers want to be individual but also to be socially accepted by others and will often follow trends set in the industry. According to Flowers Canada (Ontario) the Netherlands is the trendsetter when it comes to determining the popular color of the season. For example, in the beginning of this season you should plan to include a variety of purple shades. Of course this just touches the surface, as there are numerous factors that go into trendsetting, and trends can bleed over from other industries such as the fashion world.
What should you do?
You should aim to have a varied selection of colors to choose from as male and female color preferences vary so greatly. Consider what time of year consumers are buying, the most popular trends set for the year and the type of consumer that you sell to the most. Bear in mind there is no definitive right or wrong answer to color choices!
Commercial growers are constantly challenged to improve production efficiencies on every possible angle. Competition is stiff, and growers must continually find ways to improve in order to remain competitive in their market. Saving even a fraction of a cent here and there goes a long way when you’re producing in high volume. Here are 6 of the most common production inefficiencies greenhouse growers face.
1. Relaxed Nutrient Management
When it comes to yields, it’s too easy to make the assumption that “more food means more flower”. But is it that simple? From a horticultural perspective, delivering just the right amount of nutrients, at just the right time, will improve your crop’s nutrient use efficiency.
Fertilizer is not cheap, especially if you rely on premixed, or use a drain to waste style of production where you are unable to reclaim unused nutrients. Running a “lean” crop will not only save you from wasting nutrient solution, it will also improve the performance of your crop.
Tightening up on your nutrient management system means evaluating where your wastes are. A good fertigation management system can really add to the bottom line.
2. Improper Lighting
Lighting is essential, without light a plant won’t grow, and in greenhouses where natural light is in abundance, lighting is the most often overlooked component in a production plan. When considering the lighting needs for your plants it is important to look at when to and when not to provide light. Shading and blackout curtains are often used to reduce the amount of daytime light. Consider how your zones are divided to make sure you are balancing your crops light needs correctly. The type of glazing on your roof also effects light distribution and needs to be part of your light plans, as well your geographic region and seasonal changes will also come into play.
Many commercial greenhouse growers are also looking at supplemental lighting to boost light levels when your crop needs it most. HPS lights are still generally the most economically feasible solutions but LED should not be ignored. Many vining fruit growers use LED inter-canopy lighting to boost fruit production.
In all cases selecting the right lights, putting them in the right position, and coordinating your day lengths will help substantially in managing your lighting bills.
I think we should also mention Photosynthetic Photon Flux Density (PPFD), as a standardized measurement when trying to meet crop specific light needs. Because PPF only focuses on photons which are active for photosynthesis, it helps growers quantify what they are delivering to their plants VS what their plants need. Of course the computer can calculate this, but growers still need to be aware so they don’t get the tunnel vision of “more light=more production=more profit”
3. Climate Control Mismanagement
In days gone by greenhouse growers sought to minimize the greenhouse height in order to reduce the cost of heating the perimeter. Today we realise that it is far easier to maintain a consistent temperature with a greater air volume. This enables commercial greenhouse manufacturers to design higher gutter heights, and using passive climate control: Shade/energy curtains, and natural ventilation taking advantage of convection to force hot, humid air out of your vents. Greenhouse heating systems have also come along way, and old boilers should be considered for replacement to take advantage of the efficiencies newer boilers offer. High efficiency condensing boilers can have a quick ROI as they can be up to 13% more efficient than the conventional fire tube style boiler. A good environmental control computer is essential if you want to maximize the efficiency of your climate control.
Growers also use their climate as the primary tool for shaping plant development. Mismanaging your greenhouse climate can make the crop develop in an undesirable way. This can lead to needing more crop labour to physically fix the problem, and it can lower the market value for your product. Either way, it’s costing you money.
We want to stress that energy is typically the biggest production cost in a commercial greenhouse, most of which goes into managing the climate. So inefficiencies here will substantially take away from the bottom line.
4. Inefficient Greenhouse Labour Management
Labor is usually your second largest expense after energy, so not managing your workforce efficiently is a serious cost problem. Streamline production so your laborers can be efficient with their time. Track the amount of time it takes each laborer to complete each task and how many times someone touches a plant. This gives valuable insight to how long specific tasks should take to complete, who is efficient and who needs improvement, what component is the most labour intensive, and anticipate when extra labor may be required. This will help you trim the fat in production, and give you something measurable to decide when spending money on greenhouse automation is worthwhile or not.
5. Wasted Greenhouse Production Space
Canopy space / total space = % space used for production. It is a simple formula to determine the percentage of floor space you are using for production. Remember your production space is what pays for all the other space, so it makes good sense to maximize one and minimize the other.
The best space savers in a greenhouse tend to be rolling benches where a single aisle can replace several aisles in a stationary bench layout. Or if your crop is grown on the ground, in-floor heating eliminates the need for aisles entirely. Tiered/stacked production has also seen a rise in experimentation, though this does not always lend itself to more production efficiency as material handling, irrigation, lighting all need to be adapted to a multi-level system.
Consider in your greenhouse design the space needed for the irrigation room, water, fertigation and other equipment storage. Is there a better layout for more efficient use of floor space? With drain to waste, drip, DWC, NFT, flood, aeroponic, do the results of production justify the extra space required for that style of growing?
Having said that you still need to have a working environment conducive to employee needs. How do employees and product get from place to place. Electric vehicles, bikes/scooters, carts, mobile racks, fork lifts, skid steers. Does it really increase production to maximize floor space if it means laborers must spend substantially more time to do their job? Sometimes, some empty space isn’t wasted if it allows for improved production.
6. Lax Greenhouse Maintenance
Regardless of your greenhouse design, or the technology you use, all of your equipment and growing systems if not properly maintained are inefficient. Heating, irrigation, venting, shading, greenhouse automation, forklifts, delivery trucks, all need to have a maintenance schedule.
Proper maintenance reduces downtime by fixing little problems before they become big ones. A proper maintenance log will also help you identify when spending money on maintenance would be better spent to upgrade a piece of equipment.
Even when you adhere to a maintenance schedule things can go wrong which is why having open eyes and ears are a growers most useful tool.
Train your senses to know when everything is working perfectly, so you can quickly sense when something is wrong. Catching a noisy vent motor early enables you to get a replacement before something fails and interrupts production.