Overcoming Weather Limitations with Greenhouse Farming

Numerous growers are erecting greenhouse structures to grow crops and even animals in the face of unpredictable weather. New technology in greenhouse structures and controlled environment growing methods represent a scalable solution to sustainable food production when combined with farm management software for highly efficient operations. regardless of the weather. 

This guide is intended to assist farm businesses in managing and scaling their agricultural production using covered greenhouse structures while also mitigating weather restrictions.

Overcoming Weather Limitations with Greenhouse Farming

How Does Weather Affect Farming? 

Agriculture is harmed by extreme weather and even slight shifts in the climate. 

Over $21.5 billion in production loss was incurred by crop and livestock farmers in the United States in 2021 as a result of adverse weather conditions and climate disasters. Between 1991 and 2017, farm insurance loss payouts increased by $27 billion due to rising temperature extremes.

The most immediate weather events, typically resulting in direct production losses, are floods and droughts. Weather conditions, on the other hand, have a number of secondary or less obvious effects on farming. 

For instance, despite the fact that a prolonged wet and cool spring does not result in flooding, farmers are still unable to plant their crops when they typically do in the spring. Alternately, wet conditions may hinder crucial early plant growth and stress young plants, making them vulnerable to disease outbreaks and predation by pests. A crop can be killed before it reaches maturity by early fall cold snaps, and crop growth can be severely harmed by excessively hot temperatures during the growing season. 

It's not just crops, either. Extreme weather conditions also have an impact on livestock production; The cattle industry is particularly hard hit by drought because it makes it hard for grasses and forages for pasture grazing to grow. However, extreme temperatures can affect even small livestock, such as chickens, which are used for the production of eggs and meat. 

The ability to control the greenhouse environment and temperatures to support the growth of high-quality crops throughout the year is the most significant benefit of greenhouse farming.

Climate Change, Sustainability and Greenhouse Farming 

Global food security is in jeopardy and more frequent and extreme unfavorable weather events are being caused by global warming, which is caused by an increase in greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Farming has always been affected by extreme weather conditions. 

The global temperature is on average 1.1 degrees Celsius higher than it was before industrialization, according to the United Nations. Despite the fact that this may not appear to be much, rising air temperatures alter traditional weather patterns, increasing the severity of heat waves, extreme precipitation, and other weather-induced events like rising sea levels caused by glacier melt. Farmers find it harder to grow crops in the traditional way because of all of these events. 

At the same time, the issue of climate change is exacerbated by agricultural production and farming practices. Carbon dioxide and other potent greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide and methane are released into the atmosphere by traditional farming methods. The food supply chain is responsible for about one-third to one-quarter of the world's annual greenhouse gas emissions. A more sustainable food supply chain that promotes healthy environments and ecosystems is becoming increasingly demanded by consumers and food supply companies. 

In essence, growers and farmers are both negatively impacted by the issues brought on by climate change and also contribute to the cause of the change in the first place.

One potential solution to the issue of climate change is greenhouse farming. 

When compared to traditional agricultural production, greenhouse structures can mitigate high and low temperatures while growing food in areas where food production was previously impossible. This reduces transportation-related carbon emissions, lessens the impact of supply chain shocks, and conserves water and nutrient use. In addition, growers are able to produce a greater quantity of food in a smaller greenhouse space than outdoor production models, which lessens the pressure to convert forests and prairies into farmland and preserve these ecosystems as essential carbon sinks.

Controlled Environment Agriculture Versus Greenhouse Farming  

Greenhouse farming and controlled environment agriculture (CEA) are synonymous terms. However, they differ significantly in a few key ways. 

Temperature, humidity, sunlight, water, nutrition, and even the planting material (also known as soil) are all under CEA control during cultivation. A CEA grow takes place entirely indoors, like in a warehouse, and uses LED lighting to mimic sunlight and encourage photosynthesis. It also grows using a soilless (usually hydroponic) method. However, the high electricity costs associated with operating the LED lighting system are a significant drawback of CEA.

Greenhouses are a type of CEA that cover the structure with a see-through material like vinyl polyethylene, polycarbonate, fiberglass, or glass to take advantage of sunlight. All of the components seen in a CEA grow can also be used in a greenhouse farming operation, depending on the type of greenhouse. Hydroponic farmers even operate from greenhouse structures. 

By using natural sunlight as their primary light source in the greenhouse environment, greenhouses are able to offset their electricity costs, which is their main advantage. Nevertheless, LED lights are incorporated into some greenhouse structures to supplement the natural sunlight during the winter months when it is scarce.

Types of Greenhouse Farming  

Different kinds of greenhouse farming Greenhouse farming can be done with a variety of different kinds of structures, depending on what the farming operations want and need. They differ based on the system, the covering material, and construction method. 

In developing nations, simple greenhouse structures can be constructed for relatively little money, enabling beginning farmers and smallholder farms to extend their growing season and produce more food. Depending on the size and materials needed, simple greenhouse structures can be built for just a few thousand dollars. 

High-tech controlled greenhouse structures, on the other hand, are replicated and managed on a large scale across multiple locations using farm management software. High-tech management systems like temperature and humidity control, lighting, drip irrigation and fertigation, misting systems, and automated benching systems for moving potted plants are typically installed in commercial greenhouses, which can cost millions of dollars to build.

Hoop Houses and Poly Tunnels 

Polytunnels, also known as hoop houses, are greenhouses that are built on top of a hoop. 

Any suitable materials can be used to construct the hoop frame. In countries where bamboo is abundant, hoop houses are typically constructed using bamboo. Metal or PVC pipes are also frequently used. 

Hoop houses need to be covered with a flexible material that can withstand UV degradation, usually 6-mil polyethylene plastic. Despite its potential to last for many years, the plastic will eventually need to be replaced. 

The construction of a hoop house is relatively inexpensive, and it can be used as a seasonal or even portable structure. Side walls of many hoop houses can be lowered or raised, allowing for natural airflow to lower temperatures and lower humidity. Hoop houses are popular for smaller budgets and simpler management objectives due to their low cost, adaptability, and ease of construction. However, high-tech innovations like intricate HVAC, irrigation, and nutrient management systems can be incorporated into hoop house structures to meet the requirements of commercial businesses.

Polycarbonate and Glass Houses 

Because polycarbonate and glass are solid building materials, greenhouses made of these materials are constructed on flat or angular roofs rather than hoop frames.

Glass and polycarbonate are more expensive to install but endure longer than hoop buildings with plastic coverings. They are more frequently observed in industrial greenhouse houses.

A polycarbonate or glass home can have a variety of frame designs, such as gable, flat arch, and gothic. Sometimes a greenhouse's side walls are made of polycarbonate, but its top is made of polyethylene.

Shade Structures and Screen Houses 

Shade structures are used to reduce the amount of sunlight that a crop receives and keep temperatures down. Fast-growing greens like lettuce and baby salad greens, which are susceptible to scorching temperatures, benefit from shade structures. 

A woven material is used to cover shade structures to block sunlight. It is possible to construct it over hoop frames or frames with more angular edges because the material does not tear like plastic does. Shade cloth can cover (and reveal) a greenhouse structure that is already in place, transforming the greenhouse from a space that absorbs sunlight and raises temperatures in cold weather to one that blocks sunlight and lowers temperatures in hot weather. 

Shade structures protect livestock like chickens and turkeys from heat waves, which makes them useful in small animal husbandry. 

Shade houses and screen houses share the same idea: They are the only ones that have a tightly woven mesh screen over them to keep pests out. In areas with severe pest problems or high-value crops that are susceptible to pest pressure (like cannabis), screen houses are beneficial.

Greenhouse Farming: Pros and Cons? 

Like any new farming enterprise, there are pros and cons to greenhouse farming to consider.  

Pros of Greenhouse Farming 

  • Extreme weather conditions like windstorms, drought, cold snaps and heat waves are mitigated. 
  • Extend seasonality of crop production.
  • Higher-yielding crops and stable crop production. 
  • Easier pest management and good protection from destructive animals like deer or rabbits. 
  • Supports growing high-value crops and hard-to-find plant species. 
  • Water consumption, pesticide and fertilizer use can be reduced.  
  • Maximum profit in a small space. 

Cons of Greenhouse Farming 

  • Production costs are expensive. 
  • High up-front costs to build the structure.  
  • No natural pollination.  
  • May need special permitting. 
  • Disease pressure can be high. 
  • A significant knowledge level is required.  
  • Production is limited to high-value crops.  

What Elements Do Greenhouse Farming Involve? 

Before venturing down the path of greenhouse farming, it is crucial to consider your business goals and all the potential elements involved in building, maintaining and running a profitable greenhouse farming business.  

First, consider all the essential elements of greenhouse farming and how they relate to your business goal. Those elements include: 
  • Shape of the structure 
  • Lifespan and life-cycle of the structure 
  • Cover material 
  • Size of the farm
  • Level of farm management technology 
Once you have your primary business goals for your greenhouse farming operation, review the variables that will affect your greenhouse structure. These variables include: 
  • The amount of sunlight 
  • The amount of natural ventilation 
  • The size of the farm
  • Condensation run-off 
  • Efficiency of materials 
  • Costs 

Farm Management Software and Greenhouse Farming  

Commercial greenhouse operations and farm management software (FMS) go hand in hand, particularly for farm businesses that manage multiple greenhouse operations in various locations.

The dislocated farms are jointly managed by AGRIVI's farm management system, inventory from warehouses and staff work orders are connected, and the greenhouse production center and the rest of the agri-supply chain are connected. Automation of greenhouse functions like lighting controls, HVAC systems, and irrigation is also supported by AGRIVI.
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