Greenhouse operations are a complex business with many factors to consider when designing and constructing a new facility. Factors such as location, climate, and crop type all play a significant role in determining the most efficient and cost-effective equipment to use. However, according to PhD Esteban Baeza Romero from Future Farms, many greenhouse operations are over-equipped in terms of technique.
Esteban, a consultant based in Spain, has developed with his team his own DSS models that simulate the best combination of equipment for any given location on Earth. Rather than blindly opting for the most high-tech greenhouse facility, he believes growers and investors should use a digital twin of their greenhouse to better understand the capex, use of resources, and yield predictions before construction.
"Looking at projects all over the world shows many are over-dimensioned on equipment, for example, the heating system. Greenhouse builders tend to opt for security. If you have this, you have more than enough." As an example, Esteban says that if you do a proper design, a heating installation doesn't always has to be based on the lowest temperature of the last three decades, as you will not need it on a daily basis. Similarly, in the last years, most greenhouse builders have recommended cooling systems, such as evaporative cooling, in locations such as the Shanghai area or Japan, where it won't work due to high humidity levels.
"So far, it's a business where millions of euros are invested, and what the grower gets is sometimes an act of faith in the greenhouse manufacturer or a copy-paste from their last project. It's not a bad job, but it's not the optimum either", says Esteban. With a background as a leading researcher at Wageningen University and extensive experience in greenhouse projects worldwide, he's seen the effects of this upfront and after the completion of the project. "In addition to a high upfront cost, the over-installment of equipment and capacity can lead to excessive use of resources and increased operating expenses."
A proper study of the location and climate can help determine the most efficient type of greenhouse, such as a closed or semi-closed greenhouse, as well as the best combination of equipment, he says - and that's what he is offering with Future Farms. "Doing so can help investors avoid unnecessary expenses and ensure that they are using only what they need." Future Farms also does this to create roadmaps for R&D or to design indoor farming and microalgae growing systems, preventing costly mistakes and ensuring an improved microclimate. "We use Computational Fluid Simulations to guarantee a robust and efficient solution for any project."
The design phase is only one aspect of greenhouse operations, however. Managing the greenhouse efficiently is equally important. He notes that having the right tools to monitor and control the climate is essential, as is having knowledgeable management to ensure the greenhouse is operating at peak efficiency - a second part of the consultancy business of Future Farms.
Esteban has experience working in many different climates and says this strategy – doing research upfront – benefits projects everywhere. "Hot and humid locations can be particularly challenging. If it's hot and humid, there are only two things you can do: build a very simple greenhouse, more like an umbrella, with some sidewalls and roof ventilation, and try to grow some crops that are adapted to high temperatures, like melons, cucumbers, and zucchini. But for other crops that need cooler temperatures, like berries, that might not be giving you a good result. You can choose to use expensive, active cooling to adjust the climate in the greenhouse, or, what could save you more in the end, you could look for a different location as going up in altitude might provide you with cooler and dryer circumstances. In your complete growing process, this is far more effective."
In contrast, hot and dry desert climates can be more manageable with the use of evaporative cooling, although this requires a lot of water. "Going near the beach and using desalinated water could save you from active and expensive cooling. It all depends on what's available."
In conclusion, Esteban says proper planning and design are crucial for efficient and cost-effective greenhouse operations. "Investors should take advantage of digital models and expert consultants to ensure they are using the most appropriate equipment for their location and crop type. With the right combination of design, equipment, and management, greenhouse operations can be optimized for maximum yield and profitability."
For more information:
Esteban Baeza Romero
Future Farms Solution
Tel.: +34 609 832 678