INSIDE VIEW: When life gives you lemons…
October 23, 2023 By Gary Jones
If you’ve been part of the greenhouse industry for more than ten minutes, it will be no surprise that the two biggest costs by quite a margin are usually labour and energy. At least as you move further from the equator and spend significantly on energy for heating or cooling. Of course, the fundamental unit cost of each is (typically) always increasing. So, necessity being what it is, greenhouse businesses are always looking for ways to reduce the cost of energy input per unit of salable product.
With regards to energy, some things remain fundamental to making it all work. “During the June 2023 ‘Indoor Ag Tech Innovation’ event’…’Two panel discussions …addressed energy costs.’
“You need to start by measuring and targeting the results of your best-performing crops and the best-performing sections of your growing facility,” said Andreas Wilhelmsson, Chief Strategy Officer at Ljusgarda in Sweden.’
“Get a good kilowatt per hour price from your energy supplier,” said Steve Marafiote, CEO of Sundrop Farms in Australia. “You should also look at any alternative options … or look for ways to produce your own green energy through solar or wind.”
“You can’t improve on something you’re not measuring,” said Tisha Livingston, CEO of Infinite Acres, a subsidiary of Ohio-based 80 Acres Farms.
“If you’re building new or renovating, engineer and design your facility to maximize energy efficiency right from the beginning” said Marcus Whately, CEO of Growup Farms in the U.K.
“Do not ignore the power your plants have to manage their own energy use,” said Anthony Younan, Vertical Market Head, Industrial Americas at Siemens.””1
So, perhaps these gems can be summed up as ‘plan ahead, especially at the start; secure good prices of your energy inputs; look for alternatives; measure your business performance to set baselines; compare to the best performing businesses; and (if I can perhaps interpret the last statement) be a good grower.’ I think if you took nothing else away from that event, you’ll have already easily repaid your registration, travel, and attendance costs by having these five items presented at the same time in one easy package!
Probably if you’ve been around the industry for more than another ten minutes, you’ll also know that the speed of change and new technology seems to be ever increasing. It does seem to get more challenging to keep up. Which is a shame, because there are so many exciting technology things going on in the industry these days, with so much potential. For example, changes in lighting equipment enabling paradigm shifts in crop production cycles (e.g. to profitable all-year-round vine crop production); robotics, automation and autonomous growing; ideas around alternative energy sources; and, of course, urban agriculture and vertical indoor farming ventures.
Which means that on the face of it, there are wonderful opportunities for the industry to attract new people. People from outside our workspace who bring completely new skill sets and ways of seeing things. People not constrained by the idea that ‘we’ve always done it this way’.
There’s a saying that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. Perhaps energy issues are the gateway to helping us solve some of our labour problems. I don’t know really, and we’re perhaps talking about different kinds of labour issues. Perhaps I’m just being optimistic and joining dots that can’t be joined. Maybe I need to stick around for another ten minutes to see what happens.
1 Brian D. Sparks, ‘Five Insights on Energy Efficiency in Controlled-Environment Agriculture’, Greenhouse Grower, 16 August 2023.
Gary Jones sits on several greenhouse industry committees in BC and welcomes comments at email@example.com.
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