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Plant factories versus greenhouses

Making the right choices when investing with the Resource Use Efficiency

The optimum efficiency of the cultivation facility is one of the most important points for attention, when investing in horticulture. This ensures sustainable production and profitability of the investment. The central question is then: how many kilos of product does my cultivation system deliver per amount of input of water, energy, CO2 and soil?

The answer to that question is called the Resource Use Efficiency (RUE). Wageningen University and Research has a team of greenhouse horticulture experts who can use their computer models to calculate the RUE for each location on Earth and for each cultivation system. In doing so, they offer businesses guidance on investments in horticulture through customization.

The Wageningen experts calculate the Resource Use Efficiency of horticultural cultivation systems in assignments from the business world. Companies that are on the eve of new investments will then discuss the possible investment directions with the Wageningen researchers. Based on this, the researchers calculate the various specific options, whereby the client exclusively receives the customized results.

The group also conducts research that is co-financed with public money. The results from such research can become widely available. The researchers recently wrote a scientific publication together with colleagues from TU Delft about one such project. The research was co-financed by the Horizon 2020 program of the European Union and from the Top sector Horticulture and Starting material in the Netherlands.

The publication gives Wageningen researchers scientific recognition of their approach. They also show in the publication that their approach yields concrete and useful figures. With these numbers, investors in greenhouses or other cultivation systems can make well-founded choices to minimize risks and maximize sustainability and profitability.

As an example in the scientific publication, three locations were examined: Northern Sweden, Abu Dhabi and the Netherlands. Greenhouses were compared with plant factories: multi-layer cultivation systems in closed and conditioned rooms. When comparing these specific situations, it turned out that there is no system that is better in all respects. A greenhouse is (with the current technology) more energy-efficient than vertical agriculture, even in places where the use of solar energy is linked to [major] disadvantages. Vertical agriculture can be feasible if other resources (such as water or land) are scarce, and/or if it offers a better marketing or logistics perspective than greenhouse cultivation.

Read the full paper.

Source: Wageningen University & Research
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