Greenhouse Canada

Inside View: A little bit of everything

June 7, 2023  By Gary Jones

“The owner of one of the U.K.’s biggest cucumber farms says the industry is facing a “triple threat” as he fights to keep his family business going. Tony Montalbano, who runs Green Acre Salads in Roydon in Essex, says U.K. salad growers are facing a threat to their business from spiralling energy bills, supermarket prices which do not reflect growers’ costs and a shortage of workers. It was forced to stop production earlier this year because of the exorbitant cost of energy needed to grow the crop in the depths of winter.”1

While this is a prime-time news item to the U.K. public, the essence of such a story should come as no surprise to anyone in the greenhouse industry here in Canada. We’re all too well aware of the three ‘perfect storm’ issues mentioned (energy, returns and labour), and all face similar concerns to some extent. Growers have to be masters of simultaneously chipping away on all these fronts (and more). But for now, let’s look at a few
energy-related items.

Intelligent crop monitoring
There has been much talk of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) in the past couple of years, and the development of autonomous greenhouses. Even without going fully autonomous, new tech can help optimize greenhouse production. Swedish startup Ecobloom Technologies recently released EcoSense, “designed to help indoor farmers optimize their yield while reducing energy costs. By leveraging the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning, EcoSense provides real-time insights into plant health and growth, allowing farmers to make data-driven decisions and take corrective actions where necessary.”2 The aim is to optimize yield while reducing energy costs, and is being used by Kabbarps Trädgård AB, producers of fresh herbs and salad crops.


Photovoltaic glass
Similarly, there has been research into photovoltaic glass for some time now. But this is now coming to commercial fruition. ClearVuePV is an Australian company with products ready for install in commercial greenhouses. According to their literature, “The Solar Greenhouse of area 3,000m² will deliver approximately 0.25MWh of solar energy daily back to the grid (or to battery array for off grid installations). [This is] Equivalent to installing a solar farm rated at 60kWp, integrated into a transparent building structure. Enough energy to power 12 average residences. 250kWh production per day will offset over 1.3 tonnes of CO2 emissions each day.”3 While Australian growers enjoy much more sunshine than many here in Canada, if the capital investment is affordable, such technology may be worth investigating.

Quantum dots? Huh?
Perhaps we ought consider options to fully utilize the one source of energy that is free – sunlight. Applying what might be considered space age technology, U.S. company UbiGro is developing its “luminescent greenhouse film that optimizes sunlight within your greenhouse. This layer of light uses clean nanotechnology known as quantum dots to improve the quality of light in the greenhouse. UbiGro’s layer of light leverages unused parts of the sun’s spectrum, UV and blue photons, and converts them into orange, red, and far-red, giving your plants more of what they need to thrive.”4

It’s unlikely these developments will make a dramatic difference negating the energy issues growers face, but combining all these, and more, may reduce the “triple threat” to a double whammy. Already incorporated these utilities? Let us know, I’d love for us all to be able to learn from it. That just leaves the one issue – getting decent returns for all the hard work put into getting the industry’s incredible products to the supermarket shelves. I suspect that might take more work…

1, reported in, May 2023

2 reported in,May 2023

3 greenhouse brochure, accessed, May 2023

4 accessed, May 2023

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