Technology is quickly changing the face of agriculture, particularly in the greenhouse industry with something called ‘Fertigation‘. This new technology is lowering the costs of production, energy, and fertilizer and increasing the overall yields of vegetable crops and floriculture. But this new world isn’t without its challenges with more competition going after large buyers, market pricing and getting in with the grocery brands, now more than ever, trying to stay on “Top of the Food Chain” means thinking a lot about production, costs and bottom line profitabilty.
Greenhouse Automation can help your farm operation, no matter if you are growing indoor fruits, vegetables, flowers, or medical marijuana. If you are not reducing your costs or becoming more productive, agriculture could become much more challenging in the years to come as growers that invest in proven technology excel in production and gain an advantage over other growers.
According to various research studies, labor costs represent about a third of the production costs in greenhouse agriculture, with energy costs as a close second. Fertilizer represents about 20% of the production costs. Together, they make up half the costs of production in an industrial greenhouse environment. If you are looking to reduce your production costs, you should first examine these three factors to see how you can reduce these expenses. It’s a bonus if the solution implemented can also increase your yields, and we believe the best way to do this is with new greenhouse technology.
How the Top 100 Greenhouse Growers Tackle Managing Costs and Prices
Look at this data above from greenhousegrower.com where they asked the Top 100 Growers in North America, what they are going to do over the next three years to hit their operational goals. #1 on the list was increase efficiency and more than 60% of them said they would help to do that by investing in Greenhouse Automation and Technology. Other operational factors came into play as well, with more than 60% of the top growers also saying they would put a plan in place to lower overall production costs and reduce dependancy on labor.
Here is a direct quote from the Greenhousegrower.com article:
Increase Efficiencies to Control Costs
So it comes as no surprise to learn that when asked about operational goals over the next three years, efficiency, increasing profit margins, adopting automation and technology, and finding ways to lower overall production costs were at the top of survey respondents’ lists.
Ways to increase efficiencies should be at the core of any business, says…
Barry Sturdivant, Senior Vice President
Wells Fargo Commercial Banking,
National Food and AgriBusiness Group.
“A good business focuses on bottom-line profitability,” he adds.
Now that is a powerful quote, not only are top growers implementing Greenhouse Automation as soon as possible, but they also hope to gain all the benefits of that technology in the way of cost reduction, to the operation which our greenhouse technology directly provides in some main key areas…
Top Six Things Grower’s Can benefit from a Fertigation System
Compared to field crops, fertigation offers:
- Uses less fertilizer & Lowers energy costs
- Less water loss from runoff
- Higher crop yields
- Better nutrient management
- Complete control and remote access of your crop feed
- Less Dependance on Precious Grower time
How are you going to increase your production and bottom-line profitability in the next few years?
Automation has reduced production costs in many industries and it’s beginning to find its way with increased applications in the industrial greenhouse sectors. Automation saves energy, labor and fertilizer costs, all while increasing crop yields. Greenhouses lend themselves particularly well to “automation technology” since the climate is partially controlled already by the greenhouse structure itself.
Greenhouse automation equipment, like The Climate Manager™ allows the internal enviroment to be completely controlled, including the humidity, temperature, and ozone among other growing factors. The Fertigation Manager™ equipment allows fertilizers and chemicals to be applied to the plants automatically, based on their specific nutrient needs and where they are in their growth cycle. Our Greenhouse Automation Equipment can be controlled manually, with an on location computer or over the internet thereby limiting the amount of labor that needs to be performed, freeing up precious grower time and from anywhere in the world.
We are also leading the way in greenhouse water recycling. Within a contained closed loop irrigation system, fertigation can be somewhat similar to a water recyling plant. Where the crop feed solution is run once through the growing media and recollected so that it can be treated and recirculating again. More fresh water is added and adjusted to the right EC and pH range, any leftover un-usable solution or waste water can be drained. This is a huge savings in water expenses. In most cases, larger greenhouse operations are doing some form of this closed loop system and has a Greenhouse Water Recycling and Purification system in place, like our Ozone Pro System to ensure safe clean water is provided to the plants at all times.
More About the Fertigation Proccess…
Fertigation is a technique that can reduce fertilizer costs as well. Basically, it is the injection of fertilizers directly into irrigation water used for the crops. It’s similar to chemigation which is herbicides and pesticides delivered through irrigation water. It’s used quite extensively in the horticulture industry and is seeing increased usage in more traditional agriculture. It allows nutrients to be provided directly to plants via the water supplied to the crop at very percise values. They are absorbed by the plants immediately and different feed formulas can be created within the software so that each crop is producing fruit, at its best posible capasity. Traditional mixing tank methods of fertilization lead to fertilizer & water waste and are not nearly as efficient at getting the nutrients to where the plants can use them readily and at the correct values.
While fertigation reduces fertilizer waste, it needs to be done correctly. Measuring and properly injecting the fertilizer is extremely important and still will always be calculated by the grower. Without the aid of greenhouse computer software, some farmers resort to winging it, the old fashion way. They do rough calculations that may or may not take into account the different variables within the internal enviroment and life cycle of the crop. Not to say that the mix or feed formula is wrong per say, its just that with in a changing enviroment, a grower may not be able to react fast enough, especially across 30-60 arces of greenhouse. That could mean game over for this years crop before you where able to analyize and treat what was harmful or lacking to the crop. This sort of haphazard mising leads to fertilizer overuse and underuse which require more corrections down the line. Either of these can be deadly to yields and production costs, not to meantion an entire zone or crop. Greenhouse technology brings real peace of mind in these areas, knowing that corrections can be made from real data, on the fly and stay the course of being the most productive.
Drip tape, drip emitter systems, and hydroponics lend themselves very well to fertilizer injections as well. Fertilizers can simply be injected into the same system carrying water to the roots. There is no need for new separate systems. It can be used throughout the irrigation cycle or it can be used only during part of the cycle, like at the end. This is where the word, “Fertigation” comes from…all set times and triggers can be set within the software to ensure crops are feed to thier liking.
The fertigation process reduces soil erosion, minimizes the risk of the roots contracting soil-borne diseases, reduces water consumption, reduces the amount of fertilizer used, increases the nutrients absorbed by the plants, and controls the precise time and rate of fertilizers being released at differnent life cycles of the plant. This all helps the plants become more resliant, think of it like this… if you are not taking care of your health you are more prone to getting sick, and even disease. The healthier you are the more you are able to fight off these things, the same goes for your crop, one thing can lead to another and root health is a great place to start to make your plants as strong as possible.
In order to fully take advantage of the benefits of fertigation, a greenhouse needs to have a way to both estimate fertilizer needs and accurately control the amount given to each plant. Since crops have different nutrients needs and deficiencies based on the medium they’re grown in, where they are in their lifecycle, and even the climate within the greenhouse, greenhouses need to be able to provide these nutrients to the plants when the plants need them. Fertigation management is the perfect solution to manage the crop feed & nutrients to different zones and crops across large greenhouse operations, because it is keeping a calculated eye on all these factors, all at once and all on autopilot. Well, Almost… User data and updates are still need weekly or even daily, but we are working on it.
As you already know, crops need three things, a proper climate, sufficient water, and adequate nutrients. Constraints in any one of these areas mean that your production is limited in growth and not reaching its full potential. You are wasting money. Breaking these constraints allows your greenhouse to have the best yields possible. To ensure that nutrients aren’t constrained in production, a Fertigation Solution for a better crop yield should be installed. Our technology can even provide growers with internet access to the growing software online so that you better mange your crops and time.
A Fertigation Manager can ensure that you are maintaining the proper nutrient flow throughout the lifecycle of your crops. It can keep track of the weather and climate conditions to ensure that plants are given enough water and fertilizer for their changing needs. The Fertigation Manager™ can deliver fertilizer to multiple blocks in your greenhouse so that each crop gets the nutrients it needs when it needs it.
Final Thoughts – Building a Profitable System for Growers
Most importantly, a greenhouse fertigation management system allows you to optimize your yields with a strong focus on plant quality. If your plants need nitrogen, you can provide them with nitrogen. If they are lacking phosphorus, you can up the dose. If your plants need a specific micronutrient like Boron or Manganese, you can ensure that they get this nutrient. You can fine tune the specific needs of your crop on a granular level so that no one single nutrient is lacking. You will now have the advantage that all top growers know and use in their operations to gain world class greenhouse yields and reduce costs.
With many grower limitations removed and the addition of labor saving automation, you can reduce your production costs and increase your crop yields with the healthiest plants possible. It doesn’t matter if you are growing fruits, vegetables, flowers, or even medical marijuana, you can benefit from greater agricultural productivity in your greenhouse.
Get in touch with our Growing Specialists and we can help customize a greehouse automation solution for you and your business. We are celebrating 30 years of innovation and commitment to growers all across the globe in the automation industry.