Growing Your Business Sustainably
If it’s been awhile since you’ve constructed greenhouse structures and you’re planning an expansion, a few things may have changed.
by Michael Kovalycsik, National Sales & Marketing Director, Delta T Solutions
Building on to your greenhouse operation is a milestone for many growers. Whether it’s an addition of one structure or a whole new range, planning the construction phase can be hectic and stressful enough, in addition to running all of the other aspects of your operation.
Add on to that the new pressures to build sustainably or “green,” taking into consideration any current or future plans to include alternative energy solutions or green technologies, and the process can be downright confounding.
To avoid regrets and end up with an addition you’re happy with, we’ve compiled some of the key questions to consider when planning to add new greenhouse structures.
WHAT ARE YOUR LONG-RANGE GOALS?
Growers planning greenhouses or ranges often tend to be too conservative, and end up with regrets about not dreaming bigger. Before you draw up plans for a new structure or range, ask yourself what the possibilities are for your business. Where do you see your operation in 5, 10, 20 years? If you think you’ll only end up as a 10-acre business, consider the opportunities available, your current market share, your existing competition and their market share, and evaluate the direction of the retail markets you serve. You may find that it’s not entirely unreasonable to consider planning for 20 acres, instead.
That’s not to say that you should launch into a huge expansion plan immediately, but at least plan your operation’s infrastructure accordingly, including power lines, gas lines, shipping docks, and retention ponds. Several large growers have looked back and wished they’d left room for a shipping and loading department at the front of their property, instead of the back, for example.
Visit the National Greenhouse Manufacturers’ Association Web site, www.ngma.com, to obtain greenhouse construction specifications and for a directory of manufacturers and resources.
DO YOU REALLY NEED TO EXPAND?
If expanding your business seems inevitable, first, ask yourself if building new greenhouses is really necessary or if it’s what you want to do. Keep in mind that part of growing your business sustainably includes economic sustainability. In today’s economic climate, many growers are exercising great conservatism and retrofitting existing greenhouses to serve new crops, rather than building new structures.
Reglazing coverings, adding new benches and shade coverings, and updating heating systems and installing energy curtains are a few examples of alternatives to building new structures. Many growers are even opting to add hoop houses rather than engineered structures, for energy conservation, creating an environment with ventilation and irrigation.
WHAT IS YOUR FOOTPRINT?
Today’s marketplace is ultra-focused on sustainably produced crops, and that translates to attention to detail right down to the bare bones of your structures, including using locally sourced and recycled materials. Ask prospective greenhouse providers where the materials they use are sourced from, if any local, reclaimed or recycled materials can be used instead, and the cost difference involved.
Making room for alternative fuels and energy efficient solutions is important when planning, because of the size and space requirements of systems like biomass boilers and fuel storage. These often require stand-alone facilities on-site, and need to be located central to both existing structures and new construction.
Hydronic heating systems are flexible and energy-efficient solutions that are ideal for expansion. Growers can add in-floor and bench heating systems simply with the addition of new structures and benches. Radiant heating systems offer accelerated germination, rooting and plant growth, as well as 20 to 30 percent fuel savings over conventional forced air heating. Maximum soil and plant temperature control combine with the ability to create different temperature zones for growing flexibility. An added benefit is that hydronic heating systems offer flexibility in boiler fuel choices, and the ability to supplement with renewable resources like solar and geothermal heaters.
HOW MUCH RED TAPE CAN YOU CUT
Nothing holds up construction like bureaucracy, so the faster you can get permits, the better. Getting to know local and state politicians will benefit you in this process.
Make calls to township supervisors, town planning boards, representatives, senators and state departments of environment and agriculture, and follow up with in-person visits. This may give you the answers you need before you get the paperwork, cutting wait-time substantially, sometimes a matter of months.
For more information on planning a greenhouse structure and guidance in developing heating systems, contact a Delta T Solutions representative, 800-552-5058 or e-mail email@example.com.
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