In a small town in Eastern Kentucky, the future of agriculture is growing. A 2.76 million-square-foot facility is being created on 60 acres of land which will utilize environmentally-friendly techniques to help feed a nation with an aging farmer population, declining farmland and a changing climate. The region which was previously known for its booming coal-mining industry that brought power to the nation, is now helping to shape history once again.
The new future economy of the region could lie in high-tech greenhouses. Not only are they more eco-friendly, the facilities are more economically-efficient, and could bring life-support to an overburdened agriculture sector.
The Netherlands has shown itself to be the standard-bearer of this technology. Despite being only the size of Connecticut, it is the second-largest agricultural output in the word thanks to high-tech greenhouses. The country, with only slightly more than 1,300 inhabitants per square mile, is the globe’s number two exporter of food as measured by value, second only to the United States, which has 270 times its landmass.
Modern greenhouse farming in the Netherlands kicked into gear after World War II as a reaction to one of Europe's last experiences of famine. In it, close to 20,000 people died in what was coined the 'Dutch hunger winter,' during the final months of the German occupation in 1945.
Fast forward to the year 2000, and the Dutch made a national commitment to sustainable agriculture under the rallying cry “Twice as much food using half as many resources.” Since that time, their farmers have reduced the dependence on water for key crops by as much as 90% while eliminating the use of chemical pesticides on plants with the use of greenhouses.
Wageningen University and Research (WUR) are the primary architects of high-tech greenhouse technology, working 50 miles southeast of Amsterdam. The university is akin to Silicone Valley and is considered the top agricultural research institution in the world.
A study by the school found that the advantages of protected cultivation compared to outdoor production of vegetables have a mostly better product quality with higher input efficiencies of water, nutrients and crop protection agents (physical consumption related to level of yield). Moreover, protected cultivation is less dependent on the climate factor and ensures the delivery of products in time. The study estimates that greenhouse horticulture establishments will provide 56.5-58.5 million hours of employment, of which more than 90% is for cultivation labor.