Certhon, Agra-Tech and Village Farms share experience at Indoor Ag-Con:

How we should go about selecting a greenhouse?

Some people grew up while getting their hands dirty on a family farm, others are complete newbies when they step into the controlled environment ag industry. In order to guide potential investors and entrepreneurs in the world of indoor farming, a speaker panel at the recent Indoor Ag-Con in Las Vegas shined their light on the criteria when selecting an indoor grow, greenhouse or a vertical farm. 

The Indoor Ag-Con has become an important event for investors and professionals from the venture capital space who are exploring the opportunities in controlled environment agriculture. Organizer Newbean Capital called in the help of Jim Bergantz of AgraTech Greenhouses, Tim Robinson from Village Farms and Erik Ijntema of Certhon to share their knowledge and experience with selecting the right technology. 

Sales engineer Jim Bergantz of commercial greenhouse manufacturing company Agra-Tech Inc. kicked the session off with an introduction about the importance of having all your ducks in a row. He gave an overview of all different greenhouse designs that his company offers, from basic shade and retractable structures to quonset and advanced gutter connected structures, but affirmed that the type of structure is only 5% of the deal. "Selecting the choice of greenhouse should be one of the last decisions to make. There are more factors to think about when getting started." 

As an example Bergantz talked about the challenges that projects will face in regards to obtaining the right permits. Just like during his previous presentation at Indoor Ag-Con 2016, Bergantz addressed the importance of using an experienced permit acquisition specialist. "You will need to have a very detailed plan that covers many criteria from a to z before you can even put the first shovel into the ground." 

Tim Robinson, VP of Facility Management at Village Farms, was present to explain about the technology selecting protocols at North America's largest commercial greenhouse vegetable grower. Robinson said that at Village Farms, every decision and investment is calculated to the last penny. "In order to survive in a commodity market, we always need to aim to be the lowest cost producer of a quality product. Therefore, we do a lot of research on new innovations and technology that have a certain potential to help us to keep our costs down. " 

Village Farms always has the goal to produce the highest yields, in the best climate, with the lowest cost of energy and the lowest cost of labour. "Anything we do must be done as efficiently as possible. This goal has a big influence on selecting the technology or the designs we use". But that technology does not always has to be an complicated topic such as diffused glass or state of art automation. As an example, Robinson spoke about the length of their crop rows. "We made them a lot longer than the usual length as it makes the harvesting and crop work much more efficient. It's a simple design solution with a huge impact on our production cost." 

Robinson concluded by saying that selecting the right technology and design is important, but that the key for Village Farms lies in the large scale application of this in order to achieve the most efficient production. "The larger you are the lower your costs are and ramping up in size lowers your risk. A lot of the greenhouse grown crops are being commoditized, so increasing yields is the only option to stay ahead of the curve." 

Erik Ijntema of Certhon joined the discussion with a presentation about how to choose between a greenhouse and indoor farm operation. Ijntema is an export manager and indoor ag specialist at Certhon, a Dutch greenhouse solutions manufacturer. The company has a broad portfolio in advanced large scale commercial greenhouse and indoor farming projects over the world.

Ijntema showed how many parameters and external factors such as location, climate, local energy costs, consumer markets and land prices have a big influence on the choice of solution. He explained two cases in which was chosen for a greenhouse or an indoor farm, based on the given parameters. 

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