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Cooling down a hothouse to launch Panama's strawberry cultivation

When you think of Panama and especially when you think of Panama City, strawberries might not be the first thing that come to your mind. Yet, if it’s up to the team of Ag Incotech, they will become so in the near future.

The company, a developer and operator of large-scale agricultural projects, recently announced their plans to construct the first high-tech Controlled Environment Agriculture greenhouses within an hour drive of Panama City, for the indoor growth of strawberries. What is most special about this company, is that whereas most greenhouses need heating, Ag Incotech only makes use of a cooling system.

As the construction phase has begun, James Archer, CEO of Ag Incotech shares the recent developments. “Now that the dry season has commenced, the groundworks are now being build,” he says. “Our project will be 100% powered by renewable energy, so we will have a carbon neutral footprint for the production of strawberries – something we are extremely proud of.”

As strawberries need lots of water, all rain water will be captured and stored onsite. “Essentially, we are bringing European strawberries right to the heart of Panama without making many food miles. As strawberry is a delicate crop, transportation does not improve quality either, so we want to reduce food waste as well.”

James is passionate about improving food accessibility in all areas and climates. “We strongly feel that food accessibility should be available everywhere, not just in further developed markets. That’s why we want to make local fresh produce easier to achieve. I feel we all have a duty to help make agriculture more sustainable and that will not be achieved if we remain still.”

Fighting the extreme heat and humidity of Panama’s climate has taken the company months of planning. Finding experienced staff also turned out to be challenging, so the company decided to provide the training themselves. “We teach staff about plant biology and climate control techniques to achieve greater yields.”

Less than one hour from Panama City, this is the first CEA greenhouse in the country. However, James dreams of more facilities in the country and beyond. “This year we plan to begin building large scale facilities in the US.”

Rather than heating the greenhouse, an act quite redundant given the high temperatures in tropical Panama, the greenhouse will be constantly cooled. Ag Incotech developed an efficient air cooling system with their manufacturer. Their cooling, like all energy used at the facilities, is powered by solar energy. “We didn’t want to miss out on another possibility to reduce our carbon footprint by generating our own power by the one source that is constantly available here: the sun.”

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