From the Editor: February 2012

February 07, 2012
Written by
What has been the most important innovation in the greenhouse sector over the past 25 years?”

That was the question we posted on LinkedIn, a popular business-related social networking site. The question generated 37 responses – some predictable, some surprising.

Among the predictable comments was “climate control,” but one respondent took it a step further by saying the “most important innovation” over the next 25 years will be “automatic crop control.”

Another respondent noted the importance of “seedling production via plugs,” along with the emergence of big box stores as major plant sellers. The two “innovations” are linked, he said. “Plugs enabled the massive increase in production efficiency that allowed growers to be able to supply the volume required by home improvement stores and other mass marketers.”

Other respondents talked of the importance of soilless media and new substrates, such as rockwool. The new materials have taken production to higher levels and allowed much better control. “This has boosted the glasshouse production of most vegetables and many flowers,” said one respondent.

Another commentator suggested precise environmental control is the top innovation. “At the start we could control only temperature in the greenhouse, and now we can also control light and CO2.”

LEDs drew a few votes. “The advent of LED lighting … has the potential,” enthused one respondent, “to replace the need for sunlight.” LEDs, added the writer, can also be fine-tuned to provide exactly the “light spectrum required by the plant.”

Another writer agreed. “There has been quite a bit of research over the years about how different light colours affect plant growth …  It will take time and research to perfect it.”

One respondent predicted “vertical” production systems will become popular, allowing greenhouse production within cities to serve local markets. Picking up on that same theme, another respondent said greenhouses will move into industrial areas, growing “in layers.” (As profiled in our November 2012 edition, Lufa Farms of Montreal, with its rooftop greenhouses, is doing exactly that, with more projects on the drawing board.)

Polycarbonate coverings “rate pretty highly,” said one writer, “considering the light transmission and energy savings.”

Computerized control of heating and fertilization got the nod from another respondent. “They regulate the whole growing process and the optimization of energy or heating and/or lighting and fertilizers to [increase] yields.”

Reviewing the comments, “computerized controls” was the most popular theme.

But looking ahead, many insiders are anticipating the effect LEDs will have on greenhouse crops.

Few agricultural sectors can match the level of innovation this industry has experienced over the past quarter century. And it appears we’ve only scratched the surface on innovative products and techniques.

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