(From an interview with Chris Kirschner, Atlas Greenhouse Regional Sales Manager)
What is the greatest challenge for vegetable growers when it comes to greenhouse structures or coverings?
The climate, weather and ever-changing seasons pose a great challenge for growers. We can predict or prepare for many things – pests, disease, nutrient deficiencies… and many of these are easy enough to respond to. However, the weather is more of a challenge. In many parts of the country, the weather can go from ideal growing conditions, to extremely hot and humid or unseasonably cold in a heartbeat with one weather pattern or storm bringing in a cold front or change without any time to prepare and with very little that we can do. Mother nature can make or break any growing operation in any climate.
What do you recommend growers do to meet this challenge?
To better prepare your greenhouse for unpredictable weather, plan to add higher sidewall height. Higher sidewalls provide more space inside your controlled environment.
We cannot change the outside weather, but we can slow down how quickly it changes the environment inside our greenhouse with a larger cushion of air acting as a blanket of insulation against those outside changing temperatures. Imagine single poly film insulation versus double poly film. We know from experience that having that extra layer of air between the poly film or by using twin wall polycarbonate that we better insulate our greenhouse and make our heating and cooling more efficient. By adding more cubic feet to the growing space, we take that simple concept even further. For years, we thought lower sidewalls, lower structures all meant lower heating bills. We thought it was a smaller area to heat and respectfully less fuel burned. However, we have now seen real evidence that the larger area of air inside the greenhouse we have, the more area we have buffering the plants from the covering and of course buffering it from the outside air temps. It acts as a huge pocket or bubble protecting the plants.
Winter is not the only time our customers are benefiting from taller sidewalls though – having taller sidewalls helps create a larger volume of air being turned over inside the greenhouse. Even though we’re exchanging that air with outside ambient air temps, it gives us more room for evaporative cooling, more shading and light casting and less humidity being given off from plants, water and solar load or thermal build up in the greenhouse. As those pots, soil and benches heat up, the more room we have above the plants to allow that heat to rise, mix and be exhausted, then exchanged with cooler fresh air, the better the growing environment our customers are experiencing!
Looking ahead, what are the biggest things you’ll be focusing on in the coming year?
Two important tools to use this year. First, staying current with the latest research and data gathered in the industry. Thanks to social media, advanced communication methods, and increased research, we are collecting data and research at a pace faster than ever. Using this as a compass to move forward from what we have learned to meet the ever-changing needs of the world, environment and customer preferences are crucial to continue to be on the cutting edge of our growers’ technology.
Secondly, learning to respond to our customer’s every changing needs. As COVID changes how customers are doing business, we need to be able to adapt while they are adapting. Folks everywhere are having to install plexiglass between their registers and their customers, switching to online ordering, dealing with COVID testing, designing social distancing protocols for their customers, the list goes on…all while still managing a business, growing plants, and dealing with the weather. Any cutting edge we can provide them with to make the growing portion easier and eliminate the stress of climate on their crops makes their job easier and in return helps make them more successful.
If you have a product that addresses some of the issues you mention, will you please send an image of it and explain how it will solve grower challenges?
The Atlas “Pro-Com” Gutter Connect Greenhouse. Controlled environment system for hydroponic lettuce growing application.