Western greenhouse growers continue to look for new efficiencies, savings and sales through new technology.
Seeking out and applying new technologies is constantly on the minds of the greenhouse grower partners of Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, said Aaron Quon, the company’s greenhouse vegetable category manager.
“All of our growers in Canada, Mexico and California are always looking for ways to improve — solar, geothermal, pest control, refiltering water,” Quon said.
Perfecting ventilation techniques and the right levels of heat and humidity also are always on growers’ minds, Quon said.
In Mexico, that means building greenhouses out of plastic instead of glass. Plastic diffuses the sunlight, a necessity in the warmer, more humid climate.
Oppenheimer’s Mexican growers also use some shadehouses in addition to greenhouses, Quon said. Shadehouses cost less to build and have less of an environmental impact, he said.
Still, most of the new houses going up in Mexico are greenhouses, which provide more control over temperature, humidity and water levels, Quon said.
For Coachella, Calif.-based Prime Time International LLC and many other growers of greenhouse vegetables, the use of technology often takes a refreshingly simple, old-fashioned form.
Traps in greenhouses catch bugs. Once the bugs are identified, said Mike Aiton, Prime Time’s marketing director, a suitable predator is found.
While growers still need to bring in the pesticides now and again, for the most part, that simple technology usually does the trick, Aiton said.
“We use a very minimal amount of chemicals in our greenhouses,” Aiton said.
Of course, the bug-eats-bug technology isn’t the only one greenhouse growers rely on. In other aspects of the growing process, more advanced technology plays a bigger role than ever, Aiton said.
“Technology is expanding very rapidly,” he said. “We have to keep pace with all the innovations. The air-flow systems we use, for instance, are much more sophisticated.”
Technological advances in how greenhouses can be heated influenced Prime Time’s decision on where to build a Coachella Valley greenhouse six years ago.
The facility was built right on top of a warm-water underground aquifer, Aiton said. Naturally warmed water runs in tubes underneath the roots of the company’s colored bell pepper plants, he said.
“It’s a natural source of energy,” he said.
The Mexican greenhouse growers Nogales, Ariz.-based Ciruli Bros. LLC works with are always experimenting with ceiling heights and spacing between plants to see what works best, said Chris Ciruli, a partner in the company.
In addition, the company will experiment with growing different commodities in different greenhouses, Ciruli said.
“They’re never the same, going across,” he said. “They’re always trying different schemes.”