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Global warming potential, variable costs and water use of young plant production

In a new study, the components for two production systems for young foliage plants in 72-count propagation trays were analyzed using life cycle assessment (LCA) procedures. The systems differed by greenhouse type, bench size and arrangement, rainwater capture, and irrigation/fertilization methods.

System A was modeled as a gutter-connected, rounded-arch greenhouse without a ridge vent and covered with double-layer polyethylene, and the plants were fertigated through sprinklers on stationary benches. System B was modeled as a more modern gutter-connected, Dutch-style greenhouse using natural ventilation, and moveable, ebb-flood production tables.

Inventories of input products, equipment use, and labor were generated from the protocols for those scenarios and a LCA was conducted to determine impacts on the respective greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and the subsequent carbon footprint (CF) of foliage plants at the farm gate. CF is expressed in global warming potential for a 100-year period (GWP) in units of kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents (kg CO2e).

The GWP of the 72-count trays were calculated as 4.225 and 2.276 kg CO2e with variable costs of $25.251 and $24.857 for trays of foliage plants grown using Systems A and B, respectively. The GWP of most inputs and processes were similar between the two systems. Generally, the more modern greenhouse in System B was more efficient in terms of space use for production, heating and cooling, fertilization, and water use.

While overhead costs were not measured, these differences in efficiency would also help to offset any increases in overhead costs per square foot associated with higher-cost, more modern greenhouse facilities. Thus, growers should consider the gains in efficiency and their influences on CF, variable costs (and overhead costs) when making future decisions regarding investment in greenhouse structures.

Access the full study at HortScience.
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