CEA: Indoor Drought Buster

Growing in a controlled environment helps growers beat weather extremes, and could be a key solution to escalating food prices.

by Michael Kovalycsik, National Sales & Marketing Director, Delta T Solutions

Are we in for a global food crisis? Since June, we’ve witnessed up to 50 percent increase in staple food crops alone, and many areas around the world look like they’re headed for dire straits.

The combination of droughts in the U.S. and western Africa, plus the effect of biofuel production on the food supply, have hiked food prices considerably this summer. This will affect the poorest areas of the world hardest, where reliance on basic food staples like corn (45 percent increase), soybeans (30 percent increase) and wheat (50 percent increase) is highest and most vulnerable to price fluctuations.

Obviously, as growers of specialty crops, there’s not much we can do about the price or supply of staple crops; however, we can control price and availability of fresh produce with greenhouse production.

WEATHER WOES

If this year’s weather has reinforced anything, it’s that Mother Nature is incredibly unpredictable and mysterious. After a mild winter and spring — one of the warmest in history — fruit tree growers in the Midwest were devastated by late season frosts that ended the growing season before it began.

 

Fruits and Vegetables Matter

 

Drought conditions across the U.S. have impacted field grown vegetables and fruits. As a result, food prices at grocery stores and farmers markets are on the rise, and consumers aren’t happy. According to the latest three-month outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), released earlier this month, little relief from the drought that now encompasses nearly two thirds of the United States is in sight. Above average temperatures will continue across the country from August through October, following the hottest July on record ever, and the warmest period of January through June on record, NOAA reports.

 

2012 Crop Insurance During a Drought Fact Sheet

The United States Department of Agriculture Notification of Drought Loss has released a risk management fact sheet covering crop insurance during a drought for producers in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio.

Click here to download the fact sheet.

Precipitation prospects are also bleak, with NOAA outlining a bullseye of below-average precipitation centered over the Corn Belt. As a result, NOAA expects the following changes to the drought from now through October:

  • Persistent or intensifying drought across the vast majority of the existing drought area.

  • Expansion of drought along the northern and eastern edges, including the upper Midwest, western New York, central Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

  • Some improvement in drought conditions in the Southeast, particularly in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, given increased chances for tropical storms and hurricanes in this time period.

  • Improvement in drought conditions across Arizona and New Mexico.

  • The Midwest will not see improvement until November, especially if El Nino forms as predicted, indicating more dry weather in the Midwest and North, according to NOAA.

GREENHOUSE PRODUCTION: A SOLUTION TO DROUGHT

Growers who already produce veggie and fruit crops in greenhouse environments know that growing in a controlled environment mitigates risk from drought and extreme weather. Controlled environment agriculture (CEA) improves growers’ ability to produce clean crops with precision, which results in increased efficiency and fewer pests and diseases while preserving natural resources. Controlled environment agriculture (CEA) enables growers to manipulate a crop’s environment to the desired conditions, through controlled factors including:

  • air temperature and humidity

  • sunlight intensity

  • gases in the air, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) or ethylene (CH4)

  • plant nutrients and water

  • and insects and diseases.

While the expense of constructing a greenhouse for agricultural production is significant and an important investment decision, the payoff is nearly immediate, allowing growers to produce 10 times more per acre than field production for some crops. At the University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, yield data show that tomato production is 600,000 pounds per acre in the greenhouse, versus 60,000 pounds per acre in the field; or 60 pounds per plant in the greenhouse versus 6 pounds per plant in the field.

 

Tomatoes

The University of Arizona's field data found that controlled environment agriculture produces 10 times more tomatoes than field production.

Greenhouse growers’ environmental footprints are also lower than field growers’ through use of integrated pest management programs and highly regulated pesticide application due to fewer chemicals being labeled for greenhouse use and less need for chemicals in the cleaner, controlled environment. Further, water retention and recycling programs and land conservation efforts, including utilizing formerly wasted land in urban areas, makes greenhouse production a sustainable solution for growers everywhere.

FUTURE FACTORS TO CONSIDER

Within the next 40 years, growers nationwide will be required to produce twice as many crops, with 30 percent less land available, to keep up with the fast-growing world population. Combine that pressure with the need to reduce water consumption and increased demand for vegetables and fruit in the United States, and growers have plenty of reasons to consider building greenhouses or incorporating fruits and veggies into their existing greenhouse crop rotation.

With more than 20 years of experience designing heating and irrigation systems for the controlled environment, we can develop a customized solution for your operation. Find out how at 800-552-5058 or email info@deltatsolutions.com.

 

 

 
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